West Lafayette Parks Go Hi-Tech To Attract Visitors

Aug 3, 2016

West Lafayette trail manager Nick Rawles wears the Google Trekker to record images of the park system.
Credit Chris Morisse Vizza/WBAA

Some West Lafayette parks and recreation staff members drew a lot of stares and questions last week as they documented every city park and trail.

That’s because it’s tough to ignore city Trail Manager Nick Rawles driving an ATV while wearing the Google Trekker - a camera covered orb mounted atop a space-age looking shoulder harness.

Rawles, and Parks Director Jon Munn, learned how to operate the contraption to record every inch of trail and points of interest at every park.

“Fifteen cameras that are set up in a panoramic kind of up and down all around above this backpack unit,” Munn explains.

Munn says those 15 cameras simultaneously take still photos every two seconds, and all that digital data is shipped off to Google.

“Somehow, some way, Google stitches all those still shots together to create what people are familiar with when they look at Google Maps,”  he says.

The Google Trekker came to West Lafayette as part of a project created by the Indiana Park and Recreation Association.

It’s a 21st Century twist on getting back to nature.

Member Julie Ramey says the group contacted Google with the concept of using technology to lure people outdoors and into parks that, for the most part, are free.

“Parks and recreation departments across the nation are being looked to as a source for people to lead healthy, active lifestyles,” Ramey says.

She says, for example, more people might head outside if they can see where a trail goes and whether it’s accessible to wheelchairs or bicycles.

The park association expects it will take a year for Google to process and post the images from West Lafayette and 35 other park departments across the state.

Once that happens, Munn says locals, as well as visitors, can see what the area has to offer outdoors.

“I think it’s really a neat opportunity, for one, for folks that maybe can’t get out on some these trails,” he says. “They would be able to go online and kind of virtually walk the trails, and it also puts our trails on the national map.” 

Munn says he thinks the online favorites will mirror the real-life main attractions –  Happy Hollow Park, and the Lilly Nature Center and the Celery Bog.