Every day, someone likely is enjoying a natural moment in a local forest preserve, be it a rare bird sighting or an awesome sunset.
And for those who wish to share those moments with other enthusiasts, the DuPage County Forest Preserve District is touting a website it launched for that purpose.
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The site, observeyourpreserve.org, can be accessed from smartphones, for instant sharing, or computers. As of Tuesday about 1,000 people have visited and 57 have registered with the site since May.
Highlights include an interactive map that, when viewed on a smartphone, provides the user's location within the preserve, field guide species pages to identify local plants, vertebrates, and invertebrates complete with preserve and ecosystem associations and the best times to observe them. There also is a menu and overview page of each forest preserve and lists of recorded species for each preserve. A nature blog menu and postings through which district staff can share interesting stories about the flora and fauna is also available.
Registered visitors can also snap a photo attach it to their location and share with other users precisely where they were when they saw a particular species.
"This is a site that is alive and current. Things happening today will be posted by the end of the day so the public can be bridged to the forest preserve district to see what is actually happening," said Marcy Rogge, the district's educational outreach director. "It's our way of engaging the public in the work of the forest preserve district."
Pilot programs using the site have been presented in elementary schools and summer camps. The district has also been invited to showcase the site at the 2014 Chicago Wilderness Congress in a session focusing on emerging
trends for development of web-based applications to enhance educational programming.
A future phase of the site, which has not yet been approved by the district, is expected to make it easier to navigate and incorporate additional features including a link to help identify species. Also included would be "how-to" videos and include seasonal projects on the site's homepage.
"We're taking the opportunity to engage the community in how the site continues," Rogge said. "We're taking their comments and observations and we're designing and responding by improving the user interface and functionality of the site.
Those improvements are expected to cost about $25,000 but will not be presented to the board until a later date.