When most people yearn to get outdoors and get away from it all, the “all” often includes all things technological – phones, TVs, email, PCs, etc. – and for good reason. Today’s fast-paced lifestyle at home and work often leaves people perpetually tethered to technology in a way that makes it difficult to unplug and relax.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources, however, is working to take advantage of advances in our increasingly mobile, socially networked world in order to do just that: make it easier for time-strapped, energy-sapped residents and visitors to learn about, travel to and confidently participate in the department’s inviting (and growing) array of outdoor recreation opportunities available statewide.

Consider the MI Camping and Recreation Locator, currently available at no cost in the BlackBerry App World, Android Market and the App Store. Introduced by the DNR last month, this mobile application was designed to put search opportunities for useful information about Michigan’s state parks, forest campgrounds and boat launches (by region, city or proximity) into the hands of people planning a trip or spontaneously traveling throughout the state with exploration and recreation in mind.

“With our state parks, campgrounds, trails, lakes and rivers and incredible outdoor spaces, Michigan has more great places to go and things to do and learn than any other state,” said DNR Director Rodney Stokes.

“MI Camping and Recreation Locator offers people a simple, intuitive way to find out what is available near them in the state at any given time.”

With handy information about Michigan’s 99 state parks and recreation areas, state forest campgrounds and 1,000+ boat launches, Stokes said this mobile app removes the guesswork for people wondering about the best places to take family and friends to pitch a tent, hike a trail, bait a hook or simply get back to nature.

Designed by the DNR in partnership with the state’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget, the creation of MI Camping and Recreation Locator is part of a broader recognition that Michigan residents are seeking out and accessing information much differently than they have in the past.

According to DTMB’s Tom Weston, director of Michigan.gov – the state of Michigan’s official website, which hosts the DNR website – efforts like the DNR’s mobile app are key to “reaching customers wherever they are, whether at home, at work, on the water or traveling throughout the state.”

Weston cited MI Camping and Recreation Locator (with 15,000+ downloads to date) as one hefty high-tech hammer in the state of Michigan’s customer-service toolbox, especially when considering all the application offers to today’s on-the-go recreation seeker:

  • Camping, lodging and boating information;
  • Maps showing the location of each state park, forest campground and boat launch;
  • Distance between you and each recreational opportunity;
  • Click-to-call phone numbers to easily contact the recreation facilities;
  • Boat launch information including name and size of the lake, river or pond, details about the ramp and number of parking spaces;
  • State park and forest information including size of the park, special rules, description of the park and activities you can find there; and
  • Information about outdoor recreation opportunities, such as swimming, hiking and horseback riding.

“Applications like this will go a long way toward helping fans of the great outdoors learn about Michigan’s amazing natural resources and build awareness of the opportunities the DNR provides for enjoying them,” Stokes said. “When you discover a state park, a beach or a campground in your own backyard or just an hour’s drive away, well, that’s a great find. It also makes it far more likely that you’re going to go get outdoors far more often.”

To learn more about the app, go to www.michigan.gov/campandreclocator.

An earlier mobile app effort, the DNR’s Mobile Fish makes it incredibly easy for residents to buy a one-day fishing license. How easy? If you have cell-phone reception, you can take advantage of Mobile Fish. Designed to aid the last-minute angler in obtaining his or her fishing license, Mobile Fish allows a smartphone user to point the browser to the DNR’s mobile website where the license can be purchased via credit card. It could be the night before a planned outing or five minutes before pushing off from the dock, tackle box in hand.

Mobile Fish can be accessed at mobile.mi.gov/fish.

“Michigan sells roughly 1 million fishing licenses every year,” said Christine Schwerin of the DNR’s Marketing & Outreach Division. “Mobile Fish is just one more way the DNR can ensure we’re doing all we can to make fishing convenient, easy and accessible for Michigan anglers.”

In addition to making positive waves in the mobile app world, the DNR is using social media with great success to reach current and prospective customers. More than just places to park information somewhere outside its website, the DNR sees its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/midnr) and Twitter feeds (www.twitter.com/MichiganDNR and www.twitter.com/MichiganDNR_UP) as virtual meeting places where people can ask questions, engage in conversation, get quality information, share photos and find new reasons to get excited about Michigan’s great outdoors.

With nearly 9,400 people who currently “like” the DNR Facebook page and 5,500+ DNR Twitter followers – and those numbers climbing steadily every month – the department’s social media effort offers a low-cost, big-return way to reach people in a meaningful way. Tabulating “likes” and “followers” doesn’t tell the whole story, however, when it comes to the “viral” effect of social media. For example, in a typical month, posts to the DNR Facebook page are viewed more than 350,000 times.

Debbie Munson Badini, who coordinates the DNR’s Facebook and Twitter presence, said the use of social media has been an invaluable tool in improving how the DNR’s message is shared with the public.

“With social media, we have the ability to keep pace with today’s multi-media society and get our messages out to the public faster than ever before,” she said. “An added benefit is that with social media, what you say is what they get. We don’t have to depend on anyone else to filter or interpret the message and that’s a huge benefit when explaining potentially complicated issues or technical topics to our customers.”

Whether answering questions about fish and game regulations, promoting outdoor recreation classes, posting up-to-date information on a wildfire or encouraging the public to get involved in the management of Michigan’s natural resources, Munson Badini said it is through the use of Facebook and Twitter that she is able to “get accurate information out there while also breaking down perceived bureaucratic barriers, making our agency more approachable and personable to the public.”

All in all, it seems like the DNR is making technology feel right at home in Michigan’s natural world, and that’s good news for fans of the state’s great outdoors.

“Our job – our passion – is to find new ways to get more people outside to enjoy all that Michigan naturally has to offer, and to do that in ways that make sense for our customers,” said DNR Director Stokes. “When technology can help us do that, you can bet we’re getting on board.”

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