Feb. 20—Visitors to Turtle River State Park have a new option for getting outside to explore and learn more about the park's rich history.
The Adventure Lab, as it's called, is basically a digital version of geocaching, using a smartphone app to steer users on a self-guided treasure hunt within the park's boundary.
The Adventure Lab is the first of its kind within the North Dakota state park system, thanks to a partnership between the state Parks and Recreation Department and the North Dakota Geocaching Association.
Adventure Labs have gained widespread popularity in recent years.
"We're excited for the opportunity to partner with the North Dakota Geocaching Association and bring this new experience to our park users," Andrea Travnicek, director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said in a statement. "While it's still important for us to provide visitors a place to unplug, we're also being strategic in embracing new technologies that enhance the visitor experience. The Adventure Lab app allows visitors to learn the history of unique park features they may have otherwise passed by.
"Plus, they can explore at their own pace any time of day."
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According to Erika Kolbow, interpreter at Turtle River State Park, Adventure Labs differ from traditional geocaches in that there's no physical cache, or container, for users to find. Instead, participants use the free Adventure Lab app to reach a series of stations along a given course and must correctly answer a question at each site before they can proceed.
There are five different stations within the Turtle River State Park Adventure Lab, Kolbow said.
"When you come to a designated feature, it will tell you a little information about that feature and then ask you a question that you can only answer from being onsite," she said. "Once you answer that question, then you get the coordinates for the next one."
Titled "Laying the Foundation: How the CCC Built TRSP," the Adventure Lab at Turtle River State Park is based on the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal public works program that ran from the early 1930s until the early 1940s to provide employment for young, unmarried men during the Great Depression. CCC workers built roads and bridges and many of the buildings that give Turtle River State Park its historic flavor.
Upon completing the course, users also receive coordinates to a bonus traditional geocache within the park, Kolbow said.
"You have to do the Adventure Lab to do our bonus cache," Kolbow said. "And the only way to open the bonus cache is to complete the lab."
The Adventure Lab at Turtle River State Park has been online since early February and takes about an hour to an hour and a half to complete in the winter, Kolbow said. Some of the roads within the park are closed for the season, and users must walk to most of the stations, she said.
Completing the course will take less time in the summer, when more of the stations are road-accessible, Kolbow said.
"They're not all real tight in one location, so you get a good tour of the park and get to see some of the major features of the park and a lot of the historical side of it, too, so I feel that's one of the neat things" about the new Adventure Lab, she said.
Considering the popularity of geocaching within the park, Kolbow says she's hopeful the Adventure Lab will catch on among park visitors.
"I'm really excited about it," Kolbow said. "I think folks will really enjoy it once they get the hang of how to do the labs and what they're about. It's an excellent way for people to learn more about a place without necessarily having to take a tour or pick up a brochure or have that connection when we're not available."
The new Adventure Lab at Turtle River State Park is one of several throughout the region, including five within Grand Forks city limits and several others in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Other nearby Adventure Labs can be found at Grand Forks Air Force Base; Gilby, N.D.; Grafton, N.D.; Warren, Minn.; Hallock, Minn.; and Thief River Falls.
There's a $7 vehicle entrance fee to access Turtle River State Park unless a state park annual permit is displayed. For more information on the park's Adventure Lab, contact Kolbow at firstname.lastname@example.org.