I arrived in Alaska in February, when it was still dark, cold and snow-covered. As a Floridian, I knew this was going to be a big change, but luckily for me, I fell in love with Alaska and had my first “real” winter.
As a 36-week environmental education intern, I looked forward to an eventful year of field trips, summer camps, refuge and community events, and working with other interns arriving in the summer.
We are all too familiar with the changes that came this year, but having only one intern at the refuge this summer was something none of us expected. Usually there are several interns and additional seasonal positions that fill up our staff in the summer.
Along with these changes came new roles for me. I began teaching Zoom classes to second graders about bears patrolling Swanson River Road, participating in fieldwork with the trail crew, absorbing online trainings, filming videos for many days, curating our Facebook page (go check it out if you haven’t!) and working on a smartphone app that kids of all ages can use at our headquarters trails. In my opinion, this app is more relevant than ever.
In a new digital world, the interactive games on the Agents of Discovery app bring the online world into nature. It encourages environmental education and fun at our headquarters trails and across the country at other National Wildlife Refuges, parks and forests.
Though I can’t take all the credit, as last year’s intern created many of the challenges, it was my job to make sure this program got up and running for everyone to enjoy.
So what’s the deal? What is this app?
Agents of Discovery is an augmented reality mobile game to play and discover the world around you. Using the app, you can unlock hidden geolocated challenges that can only be solved through exploration and discovery.
In other words, you must come to our headquarters to play and use nature as clues to answer different puzzles and questions. The Agents of Discovery app is available from the App and Play stores. Missions are free to play and, once downloaded, do not require Wi-Fi or a data connection, but I recommend downloading the game ahead of time for best results.
The missions we have designed are customized to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and Alaska, so kids (or adults who want to test their knowledge) learn about the ecosystem of the trail on which they are standing. We even have our own special agent, Ranger Raven, wearing a U.S. Fish and Wildlife hat!
This year, 20 agents nationwide from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service sites have been chosen to compete in the Battle Royale, a friendly competition between refuges. From Sept. 1 to 30, Ranger Raven will represent the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge to compete with other refuges, but he will need your help. The refuge with the most participants, a.k.a. new secret agents, will claim victory!
To encourage everyone to try the new app, and most importantly get outside and have fun, we also put together a prize bin for anyone who completes the mission around the refuge headquarters area near our visitor center in Soldotna on Ski Hill Road. I won’t spoil the surprise, but there are some great goodies from which to choose.
I would love to see us win the Battle Royale and show the whole country how loved the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is by its visitors, but more importantly, I hope the app gives visitors a fun new perspective and way to recreate.
Here are some instructions to get started:
1. Join Agents of Discovery, the not-so-secret, secret agency dedicated to learning and playing outdoors to solve Challenges.
2. Download the free game “Agents of Discovery” from the App/Play store.
3. Once downloaded, visit the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge headquarters trails (starting at the visitor center in Soldotna) to play your mission. The majority of the mission takes place on the Keen-Eye Trail (about a three-quarters of a mile walk round trip).
4. In the app, we recommend quickly making an account, so you don’t lose your progress.
5. Select the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge mission, Kenai Ecology, to your mobile device.
6. Head to different spots on the trail to unlock puzzles and games within the mission.
7. Once you’ve completed the entire mission, check the prize info and claim your prize!
8. Make sure to come back in the winter for a new, snow-covered mission.
If you have any questions about the app or how to play, please feel free to call my office at 907-260-2840, or email me at Madison_Hendren@fws.gov. I can’t wait to see our awesome new agents getting out on the trail and trying this new program! If you’d like to check out other projects I’ve worked on, such as fun videos and cool workdays, make sure to follow the refuge on Facebook.
My time here at the refuge has been such a treat and I will miss it so much when I leave in October. Wherever my next adventure takes me, the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge will always have a special place in my heart.
MJ Hendren is the 36-week Environmental Education Intern at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and is currently pursuing her Masters of Science in Environmental Science and Policy from Johns Hopkins University. Visit the Refuge on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/kenainationalwildliferefuge.
By MJ HENDREN
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge