Get outdoors – there’s an app for that!


A ny time is a good time to explore New Jersey’s great outdoors … and fall is especially glorious. If you want to find out where to hike, bike, paddle, fish, bird-watch, hunt or visit historic sites, check your phone!

More than 60 percent of mobile phones are smartphones and there has been an explosion of new apps, or downloadable programs, for every purpose under the sun.

For outdoor lovers, these apps can help you find parks and trails, identify plants and wildlife, forecast the weather, discover places to fish or hunt, and even help with an emergency.

Here are some cool free apps. Some of these freebies are “light” versions of paid apps, allowing you to check them out before purchasing the upgrade.

Last year, the state of New Jersey rolled out two “Pocket Ranger” apps for smartphones. These apps include information on all that is available in state-owned parks, forests, historic sites and wildlife management areas. One is a guide to state parks and forests, and the other is a guide to fishing, hunting and wildlife watching.

Both Pocket Ranger apps have a “nearest me” feature that uses GPS technology to find the places closest to you. This is especially handy when you are in an unfamiliar part of the state and looking for a quick outdoor escape.

Once you have found your spot, other free apps can enhance your appreciation of the natural world around you.

For bird watching, try iBird Lite Guide to Birds, Birds Lite by National Geographic or Scotts Bird ID; all can help identify the most common birds. For trees and plants, there’s Leafsnap, an electronic field guide developed by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian. This app uses visual recognition software to help identify tree species from photos you take with your phone. A similar visual recognition app, known as Project Noah, identifies your photos of birds, insects and animals.

If you like geocaching – the popular GPS “treasure hunt” pastime – there’s an app for that, too. Geocaching Intro, Commander Compass Lite, and OpenCaching can all guide your search for caches hidden in parks and forests.

Of course, knowing the weather is especially important these days … and smartphones can download satellite images. Try the AccuWeather, MyRadar or Weather Channel apps to check on approaching storms.

And if you or your companion get hurt out on the trail, there’s an app to assist. The First Aid app from the American Red Cross helps you respond to emergencies like bleeding, heart attacks, sprains, broken bones and more. It’s fully integrated with 911, so you can even call for help without leaving the app.

So charge up your smartphone and get outdoors – with a little help from modern technology.

Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, Far Hills.