Park rangers get ready to begin one of about five tours held Aug. 18 to unveil a new smartphone app that allows Spanish speakers to enjoy the newly restored wetlands. Photo by Bianca Kaplanek

App makes nature enjoyment bilingual

SAN DIEGO — In an effort to increase Hispanic participation at the recently restored San Dieguito wetlands, San Diego Gas & Electric, REI and the San Dieguito River Park Conservancy partnered to create a smartphone application to teach Spanish-speaking youngsters and their families about nature and the trails.“Call it a high-tech way to introduce low-tech nature,” said Kelly Sarber, media director for the wetlands. “We got the fish and birds here. Now we had to figure out a way to get the people here.”

Visitors with smartphones can scan one of 20 QR, or quick response, codes every 10th of a mile along the trail that translates information. Bilingual signs have been added to the route for those who don’t have smartphones.

The new program was introduced Aug. 18. Hundreds of Hispanic residents from nearby communities in Solana Beach and Encinitas were invited to take a 3-mile tour narrated in English and Spanish.

Bilingual scientists, restoration experts and park rangers were on hand to assist participants by showing them how to use a variety of instruments including binoculars, field guides and measuring sticks to observe wildlife and learn about the restoration.

Southern California Edison and SDG&E recently completed an $86 million restoration of 150 acres of the wetlands to offset the impacts of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

Kelly also noted from a science standpoint, minorities are underrepresented in environmental careers. It is estimated only about 10 percent of minority students receive undergraduate degrees in natural resources or other related fields.

“We’re trying to reach out to these kids and their parents to show them a career path that they maybe hadn’t considered,” Kelly said.

The cost to develop the app and implement the project is estimated at $15,000. Funding came from SDG&E’s Environmental Champions program and a $5,000 donation from REI.

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