New Wyoming Travel App Raises Cash for Conservation

Dec 6, 2013

Story Clark

More than half the U.S. population uses smartphones and apps. And as the appetite for mobile information continues to grow, some Wyoming entrepreneurs are poised to cash in, for the sake of conservation. Wyoming Public Radio's Rebecca Huntington has more.

REBECCA HUNTINGTON: When Story Clark gets into her Prius, she doesn't just start her engine. She also revs up a new mobile app that she's developed with her business partner Madi Quissek.

STORY CLARK: So I'm hooking it up. It's TravelStorysGPS. The app is hands-free. And we're going to get going right now.

HUNTINGTON: Do you have to tell it where you're going?

CLARK: Yes, you can see the first screen to come up is your choice of tours.

HUNTINGTON: Clark selects Highway 22 from the town of Jackson over Teton Pass. The app also allows her to customize her tour by selecting a channel based on her interests.

CLARK: If you're interested in wildlife you can learn about the wildlife along this route, if you're interested in history you can learn about the history along the route. Just for kids is the third channel, and it's great for those bored kids in the backseat of the car.

HUNTINGTON: Clark picks local history. And as she drives toward Teton Pass, you can watch a little blue dot move along the map displayed on her smartphone. Small speech icons line the route indicating places where her GPS location will trigger a story, like this one.

AUDIO TOUR: In 1911, 12-year-old Garrett Hardeman came to Jackson Hole after emigrating from the Netherlands. He settled...

CLARK: And those stories come on automatically, hands free.

HUNTINGTON: Clark says there's huge demand for GPS-triggered audio tours. Clark is the first to admit that she doesn't have a background in building tech start-ups or developing mobile apps. What's driving her new venture is her background in conservation. Clark runs a national consulting business that helps conservation groups nationwide raise money.

CLARK: And the idea came to me when I was working with one of my clients, the Conservation Trust of North Carolina and we were standing on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it's the most visited national park unit in the United States. And cars and motorcycles were whipping by. Nobody was stopping at the turnouts. Nobody was connecting with the amazing scenery. And certainly nobody knew that the Conservation Trust of North Carolina had anything to do with protecting the views.

HUNTINGTON: Clark realized that if she wanted to make a difference, she'd have to get inside people's cars and inside their motorcycle helmets.

CLARK: This is before GPS was even on phones, let's see if we could get into people's cars onto the phones and tell them the stories that they were missing.

HUNTINGTON: Conservation success stories like the one that preserved the picturesque Hardeman Ranch, where open space still graces a nearly, century-old gothic barn.  

AUDIO TOUR: Picture the barn alive with animals and people and bang of the auctioneer's gavel rising over the murmur of bids for the Hardeman's purebred Hereford cattle. The Jackson Hole Land Trust worked with the Hardemans and the community to protect the town's rural character and pastoral views. They spearheaded...

HUNTINGTON: As drivers enjoy the landscape, they can, with a few clicks of their smartphone or tablet, now make a direct five-dollar donation to the Land Trust.

CLARK: I really felt there was a disconnect between tourists coming to a place, enjoying it, loving the beautiful scenery and having no connection with the organizations that have worked so hard to conserve and continue to work hard to conserve the landscape that the tourists enjoy.

HUNTINGTON: As Clark's company continues to fine-tune the app, the list of possible clients continues to grow. She's already getting lots of interest from colleges, art galleries and historical societies.

CLARK: We're in conversations with the State Historic Preservation Office in Cheyenne to tell some of the amazing history stories around the state. TravelStorys GPS is rolling out new audio tours for the Jackson Hole Airport and a downtown walking tour of Jackson. 

HUNTINGTON: But there is a notable hurdle.

CLARK: We need money.

HUNTINGTON: The company is now shopping for investors to pay for hiring more staff and scaling up production. Clark wants to be poised to respond to an increasingly mobile marketplace. One where she expects consumers to turn away from computers in favor of mobile devices that can deliver information-on-the-go. For Wyoming Public Radio, I'm Rebecca Huntington in Jackson.