Back in July, Pennsylvania State Parks & Forests released a smartphone app that should appeal to everyone who enjoys outdoor recreation in PA. The Official PA State Parks Guide app is available for both iPhone and Android users.
There’s a PA State Park Near You
The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) reports that there is a state park within 25 miles of nearly every Pennsylvanian. Depending on which DCNR web page you read, there are 188 state parks.
Teaberry is among the diverse flora you can find at one of 188 Pennsylvania state parks.
In reviewing The Official PA State Parks Guide, our first thought was to find the state parks nearest to us. It wasn’t to happen. Every effort we made to find a nearby state park on a map resulted in the app telling us we needed to buy an upgraded version to use maps and GPS data. Frustrated, we used Android’s voice search and quickly found DCNR’s website where they map state parks by region.
Immix Wireless serves Berks, Centre, Clinton, Lycoming, Montour, Northumberland, Schuykill, Snyder, Sullivan, and Union counties. All (except for Mountour county) have state parks. Once we learned this from our browser, we returned to the PA State Parks Guide to learn how it might be useful.
Low-Value Free Smartphone App
Turns out, we couldn’t find much use for the app. It offers a nifty list of activities in which we might participate at a park. When we selected an activity, the app listed appropriate parks. However, the list of parks told nothing of the parks’ locations. These could have been destinations five hours away, or ten minutes down the street.
Likewise, a calendar of events listed programs at various state parks with no obvious way to learn where those parks are. A list of events within a specific distance would be useful, but sorting out nearby activities from all activities scheduled state-wide is impractical unless you’re planning a vacation. The Weather option led to a web page that wasn’t at all suited to review on a mobile device.
The PA State Parks Guide app can provide maps of the state parks and details about camping areas and hiking trails, but it’s best to have a specific park in mind before you start. Of course, if you’re interested simply in learning what the parks have to offer, the app can provide hours of entertainment. But there’s a catch.
The State Parks Guide is one of the largest (28 megs) and most resource-intensive (19 megs for data which I assume varies depending on what you do in the app) apps we’ve explored. It has no apparent option to save downloads on your smartphone’s SD card, so it’s especially touchy on Android 2.1. If you can install it on your SD card, it may not have the same performance issues that we saw.
Maybe Paid is Better
It’s easy to imagine that upgrading the app for $3.99 would provide a much more robust experience… and would probably make the app more useful. For example, having GPS-aware maps while hiking, and GPS tracking to know where all members of your hiking party are, seem like pretty useful features. Oh, yeah, and being able to find the nearest state park within the app rather than exercising other Android apps.
However, you’d best not acquire the PA State Parks Guide app unless you’re running Android 2.2 or higher (sorry, we don’t know how the app performs on any generation of iPhone). If you really want to try it out, you might install it for a particular trip, and then uninstall it when you’re not using it.
We’re glad to see Pennsylvania employing cell phone technology in innovative ways, and we trust that the PA State Parks Guide will improve with succeeding releases. This early version is a decent start, but it’s hard to commit when you see how memory-hungry the app is.
Find DCNR’s press release about their mobile phone app here.
The Android app: PA State Parks
The iPhone app: PA State Parks