On a topographic map of Maine, there’s green rectangle a bit north of the center, crowded with contour lines. Baxter State Park — a wild and bumpy place. More than 200,000 acres of old forests and towering mountains, majestic waterfalls and pristine ponds.
And now, you can hold it in the palm of your hand.
A Baxter State Park mobile app created by Chimani, a Maine-based company, launched April 8, for iOS and Android devices. It features more than 270 points of interest throughout the park, a GPS-enabled map and a wealth of information for visitors. What’s more, it’s all available regardless of cellphone reception — and it’s free.
“We always assume that you have no connection,” said Chimani co-owner Kerry Gallivan of Yarmouth, who founded the company with Shaun Meredith of Harpswell in 2010.
To date, Chimani has developed and launched apps for 14 national parks in the U.S., starting with their Acadia National Park app, which launched in July 2010. Baxter is their first state park.
“I go up to Baxter two or three times every year,” Gallivan said. “It’s a bit of an experiment for us to test this different market. Baxter doesn’t get as near as many visitors as Acadia, but it has a very passionate user base.”
Each year, about 65,000 people visit Baxter State Park, and of those visitors, approximately 20,000 start a climb of Katahdin, Maine’s tallest mountain. Whether they make it to the top is another story.
Katahdin has always been the main attraction of Baxter, while the rest of the park often goes overlooked. Baxter is home to 225 miles of trails leading to caves, backcountry campsites, moose hotspots and lesser mountains (17 of which rise higher than 3,000 feet above sea level).
All of the park’s trails are included in the Chimani app, which updates on user’s phones automatically each month.
For mapping, Chimani uses openstreetmap.org, a community driven website that powers map data on hundreds of websites, mobile apps and hardware devices worldwide.
“Not only can people contribute data to it, [openstreetmap.org] has 30 percent more offroad data than any of the major commercial providers,” Gallivan said. “So it’s remarkable for trail data.”
The app also includes sunrise-sunset data; details on camping, parking, picnicking and swimming; safety resources; Leave No Trace information; and historical tidbits about the park.
Most of the written information in the app is taken directly from the Baxter State Park Authority website and publications, and the majority of photos in the app were contributed by park staff and volunteers.
In the process of making the app, Chimani worked with the Baxter State Park Authority and the nonprofit organization Friends of Baxter, both of which reviewed the app and suggested modifications.
“From our standpoint, we’re going to continue to advocate for folks to realize that in the wilderness, you need to rely on yourself, not necessarily technology,” said Director of Baxter State Park Authority Jensen Bissell. “There’s a thin line that’s very blurry between where technology is appropriate and where it isn’t. Having an app in your hand is very innocuous, but making a big phone call at Baxter Peak is not.”
“I advise people to give some serious thought to what’s appropriate as far as use of this as a tool in the wilderness, and to try to go about it the right way,” Bissell said.
While many people are concerned about technology detracting from an immersive wilderness experience, an increasing number of people are using mobile devices to navigate and search for information while traveling.
To date, Chimani counts approximately 600,000 downloads of their park apps, with a core user base of 120,000 people. And in October, Chimani’s content became a part of a popular Google app called Field Trip, which has approximately 1.5 million users.
Chimani is continuing to grow and evolve. While all Chimani apps are free, the company anticipates rolling out an annual $9.99 subscription that unlocks extra functions in each app.
For each park, Chimani typically plans at least two trips to talk with park staff, explore the park and get a feel for how visitors use the trails and park facilities.
“We take some initial photos and log a lot of GPS data that we just can’t find — things like every single outhouse,” Gallivan said. “We know that’s one of the No. 1 features of our apps, where the restrooms are located. We even awarded the cleanest restroom in some of the different parks.”
Each Chimani park app issues push alerts about the park, so even when you aren’t visiting the Baxter, you’ll receive news about the park, including when Baxter’s tote road opens for the season.