The trails of the Big Basin State Park. A place for peace, a retreat into nature, an escape from our phones and the internet that holds us hostage. Now tech is entering the woods in the form of Google Trekker, but it is in the hopes of bringing the natural places to the web, not the other way around.
A loud crack sounds behind you… that was no squirrel. Just around the next bend on a twisting, shaded trail in Big Basin, something is coming. You turn the corner, peeking past a large redwood tree and are greeted by an eye, a mechanical eye! The robots are here! You thought you were safe out in the woods, in the hills, but no! Even here, tech is coming…
But in this case, it's a good thing. This robot isn't a terminator, or worse, a self-driving logging machine, it is a human, all sweaty and smiling, carrying what you now see is a large backpack topped with a complicated lens. Smile! You’re on camera, and later you, and the rest of the internet, may be able to see your dust-streaked bandana-tied face on Google Trekker.
The Sempervirens Fund, in collaboration with the new Google Trekker Loan Program, has mapped over 60 miles of trail in Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Each foot can be viewed in panoramic 360-degree view online, much like Google’s Street View but way more pretty.
The Trekker Loan Program offers the portable backpack-camera to organizations like the Sempervirens Fund in an effort to bring awesome places to everyone. And while most would agree doing the 31-mile Skyline to Sea trail in person is a bit better than clicking your way down the trail on a computer, the Sempervirens Fund sees the technology as a tool that can be used to inform people about places they plan to visit and motivate them to get outside.
“This Trekker imagery can help you plan your hiking or backpacking trips by giving you a better sense of the terrain or help you experience trails you may never be able to visit in person,” says the Sempervirens Fund in a recent press release.
A digital version, even one controlled by the user, will never replace actually going out and experiencing incredible places in person, but if used to supplement, teach, and prepare people for adventures it can be a powerful tool. “We also see potential for integrating this visual information into educational programming in the future,” says the Sempervirens Fund.
With many campsites in the park already mapped, there is also the ability to get a feel for different spots before choosing which site to reserve. Anyone who has ever ended up in the slanty next-to-the-bathroom site with no shade can appreciate this opportunity. And if you’ve never been so lucky to have that special campsite, now you will never have to.
For people using the Sempervirens Dedicate a Tree program, the technology can be much more meaningful. Trees throughout the park are dedicated in honor of weddings, anniversaries, love, and lost family, and with the Trekker Program, those who could not otherwise see the dedicated trees will now be able to do so.
The program is all volunteer based, with participants hiking the 40lb backpack on their own time, getting views for the world to enjoy. So if you see one of these panting, smiling kinda-sorta cyborgs hiking around the Santa Cruz Mountains, first offer them some water, and then give them a big thanks because they aren’t bringing the tech world to the woods, they are bringing the woods to the people.
Words by Daniel Merino
California State Parks, CC 2.0.