Outdoors & Digital

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LinkNYC from Google’s Sidewalk Labs

Harvard University President Larry Summers spoke to a crowd of about two hundred students, alums and interested policy wonks (including myself), last year.  Summers challenged the crowd by asking “if you had only one resource to choose to do a research paper, how many of you would choose the Harvard Widner Library and how many would rather just use Google on an iphone?”  The room overwhelming went for the iphone option and all of its online capabilities – over one of the world’s most impressive libraries.  It was a simple choice, especially for the majority of the audience who were under the age of 25.

The elements shaping the future of mobile technology and digital communications are many, but one thing is clear, they will continue to improve and become more ubiquitous and more indispensable.  One question is how will digital influence our outdoors, including: how we navigate; how we experience nature; how we learn and become better prepared for a successful outdoor experience; how we tap into humanity’s collective efforts to advance sustainability; and how we combat climate change, to name a few.

Google’s latest venture, Sidewalk Labs is ready to help advance cities by bringing together 21st Century technology with cutting edge design.  Sidewalk Labs hopes to “pursue technologies to cut pollution, curb energy use, streamline transportation, and reduce the cost of city living.”

I saw the first evidence of Sidewalk Labs ambitious project in New York this past week. Their kiosks lined several streets – including on 3rd Avenue where these photos were taken.  LinkNYC  will offer free public Wi-Fi and phone calls, a tablet for web browsing, USB charging for mobile devices, and way-finding tools.  These shiny kiosks will become great resources for NYC residents and visitors, and an incredible leap from the public pay phones that had been in their place for decades before.

Cities can be laboratories for outdoor innovation.   Today there are nearly 15 billion objects connected to the Internet.  From smartphones and tablets to PCs and cloud computing mega-servers.  Over the next ten years, while these devices continue to grow, we will see exponential growth in everyday things being digitally connected.  The “internet of things” will include everything from wearable technology woven into our clothing to health monitoring gadgets, from home automation to retail immediately focus on your personal preferences.

These devices will identify our habits, consumption, everyday movement, sleep and extracurricular activities.   Conservation and engagement in the outdoors can be a beneficiary from this new network of everyday digitally connected objects.  Cities now using data to make decisions on crime prevention and housing blight priorities, can now leverage connected devices to get citizens more active in the outdoors.

Cities can also use technology to galvanize their citizenry in support of the outdoors. Digital kiosks like the ones in NYC, digital signage or digital markers…are the future of way-finding in cities.   New commercial and housing projects can be offered an outdoor suite of digital programs, interactive games, trail maps and gear lending opportunities. Existing office buildings and housing will be easily retrofitted to accommodate this new digital outdoor engagement tool.  Recycling, energy use and conservation will also be able to be monitored with the new digitally connected objects around homes or office.

The disruption economy is all around us and it is fueled by technology.  Über, Lyft and other ride services have overtaken taxis.  Anyone with an vehicle, a smartphone and a driver’s license can quickly get started as a driver.  The smartphone connection is key.  The user taps in a request for pick up and in seconds gets a response from the driver and the driver’s estimated time of arrival.  From the comfort of your own home or office you can follow your requested car – animated as a tiny car shuffling along nearby streets to get to you.  Your Uber account pays automatically with no need to pull out cash, swipe your credit card or think about a tip.  This story of disruption is spreading to every product and every industry and it’s catalyst is digital technology.

Technology provided a platform to support an incredible disruption.  The outdoors is prime for its own disruptions.  Cities, States and the Federal Government are strapped for resources.  Deferred maintenance and aging infrastructure are commonplace at parks.  So something’s ‘got to’ give.  There needs to be a new way to advance our outdoor agenda and protect and promote these beautiful resources.

Technology enabled learning solutions in the era of the “internet of everything” means an unprecedented opportunity for a personalized, dynamic and ever challenging outdoor learning platform.  This new platform will provide a more holistic approach to outdoor education.   Learning Management Systems (LMS) are added every year to the offerings of higher educational institutions.  Why can’t LMS be offered to support the same dynamic learning in the outdoors?

Technology allows us to use active learning opportunities to foster greater engagement, enjoyment and comprehension.  For example by working in partnership with Cengage, National Geographic has the ability to reach tens of thousands of interested and motivated learners.

Outdoor opportunities using gamification will be part of the digitally connected ecosystem.  Youth will be energized through a digital hook to the outdoors.  The global gaming industry is now approaching $40 billion in revenues.  It would be a missed opportunity to discount this growing trend.  Making the outdoors fun resonates with everyone.  But youth can be challenged through gamification on many levels.  One such level is experiential and environmental learning.  Using digital games to advance citizen science and citizen data collection are easy to include in an Outdoor City program plan.  Mobile apps, RFID chips, trail markers with QR codes and other digital tools are important elements of a cities gaming infrastructure.  Sharing of photos, uploading collected science data, and developing personalized content are all essential elements of successful digital outdoor games in the 21st Century.  

Technology will also be an important driver to keep progressing in lowering carbon emissions.  Personal consumption data, neighborhood consumption data and city consumption data are now within the reach of most citizens.  An Outdoor City has the opportunity to aggregate these data points and incentivize lower energy use.  Offsets in a carbon credit market may also be an opportunity as more nation’s think about entering a global carbon market.

The sharing economy will contribute to the continued improvement of the urban carbon footprint.  As we have stated, cities are already the leaders in having a lower carbon footprint per capita.   Advancing the city’s sharing economy will continue to help metropolitan area citizens to decrease their per capita carbon emissions.

The sharing economy will become the backbone of city life.  With ubiquitous connections and an abundance of real-time data, sharing applications in cities will become increasingly more intuitive and cost effective.   Driverless cars from Google, the explosive growth of city bike sharing programs, shared work spaces, the rise of Uber and food cooperatives are essentials in an sharing economy.  A sharing economy is now an expectation of the Millennial Generation.

While new digital advances are being introduced everyday, it’s important to remember that these technologies can be wisely used to support the outdoors.  From getting people connected to the outdoors, fostering community engagement, offering outdoor programming, inculcating conservation stewardship, personalizing energy management, reducing greenhouse gases or supporting the sharing economy…the 21st Century OutdoorCity can benefit from the prudent use of digital to support it’s outdoors.



Yosemite at 125

It was an honor and incredible experience to visit Yosemite during Yosemite’s 125th Anniversary.  Our group of AMC President’s Society members enjoyed just a fraction of Yosemite’s 1,269 square miles. Mountains, peaks, high elevation meadows, wildlife, and the immensely interesting and diverse ecology make this one of the most breath taking and inspiring places on our planet.

Thanks to the National Parks Service, the Yosemite Conservancy and a legion of volunteers and supporters through the years, Yosemite is a crowning jewel of the United States.  We’re so fortunate to have this place that John Muir and others fought hard to conserve and protect.

With some 3.5 million to 4 million visitors a year, Yosemite continues to draw Americans and international visitors to its trails.  We spent every day exploring. From hiking up Tioga Peak to walking along the shore at Mono Lake, from staring up at the stars in the groves to getting up before dawn to see the sun rise – this is a spectacular place, that we must work to protect, preserve and engage more in its enjoyment.

Emerson said: “do not go where the path may lead.  Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”   Some of the best existing paths and trails are at Yosemite. Wise footsteps have trod before us and we would be wise to follow.  Around every corner there is a stunning vista and adventure.  Yosemite awaits!

Tent Camping!

Some of my fondest childhood memories were tent camping.  Whether locally, (almost in our back yard), or in wilderness  areas – tent camping was always an adventure. Scouting and my parents taught me the basics.  From finding a good place to set up my tent to practicing “leave no trace”; from cooking over a camp stove or fire pit to the hours of exploring we enjoyed…tent camping is a great way to get outdoors.

We would camp year round – including in the middle of the cold New England Winters.  Backpacking and tent camping is a great way to see the beauty of our region.  The challenging terrain and changing New England weather test your outdoor skills and preparedness.

According to the American Camping Report from 2014, produced by Coleman Company and the Outdoor Foundation – more than 40 million people tent camped in the US in 2013.  This is about 14% of our population.  The report goes on to state that the average camper traveled 186.7 miles for camping trips. Hiking, outdoor cooking, photography and fishing lead the list of activities campers pursued.

At the AMC we have a terrific history of supporting and advancing camping.  There are plenty of AMC tent camping options: from outpost campsites in AMC’s Maine Woods (now 70,000 acres!), platform tenting experiences at one of our camp sites in the White Mountains, or the growing close to home tenting options.  Adults, families and youth groups are all taking advantage of camping as an inexpensive way to get outdoors.  In the White Mountains of NH alone, we had over 15,000 people stay with us last summer at our tent camping sites.

AMC’s Volunteer Managed Facilities offer another great way to experience tent camping.  We offer many cabin wall tents opportunities, including at AMC’s Three Mile Island in Lake Winnipesaukee, on Echo Lake at the foot of Acadia National Park in Maine or soon at our new Harriman Camp in New York.  These wall tents are erected on wooden platforms and typically have folding cots and mattresses.  Wall tents are an easier way to get introduced to the wonder of tent camping without the added work of carrying in your tent and the required set up and take down of camp.

We’re also working on several new remote campsites throughout the region.  Plans are underway for new remote outpost campsites including at AMC’s Maine Woods.   Remote sites add to the adventure of any wilderness trek.  In addition to the wilderness, we’re also working on close to home camping opportunities.  One example of a new close to home tenting camping sites will be those we are planning for the Connecticut River Paddlers Trails,with our partner The Trust for Public Land.   Canoes and Kayaks will pull up to these new camp sites along the mighty Connecticut – offering some beautiful camping just a paddle away from cities like Springfield and Holyoke.

In all of our camping options we strive for sustainability and low impact on the land.  From thoughtful trail layout to composting toilets; from bear boxes to a nearby water source, it’s important for us to provide a well designed, sustainable and intuitive campsite.  Ultimately, we hope to work to inculcate an ethos of outdoor citizenship that will last a lifetime.

For camping options, skills building, training, books, maps or guides, please visit us at http://www.outdoors.org  See you on the trail!

Our new outhouse at Cardigan Mountain - supporting our tent camping site.

Our new outhouse at Cardigan Mountain – supporting our tent camping site.

Views from Bondcliff in the White Mountain National Forest - a short hike away from AMC's Guyot Campsite.

Views from Bondcliff in the White Mountain National Forest – a short hike away from AMC’s Guyot Campsite

The Power of Place: speaking up for the beauty of the outdoors


I took the MBTA’s Blue line out to Wonderland Station to meet my friend and long time AMC supporter Scott Livingston.  Scott drove us up to Concord NH last week to attend the premier of Jerry Monkman’s new documentary called The Power of Place.

The Lincoln Cinema on Main Street in Concord was a buzz with excitement to see Jerry’s new film.  There were people who made a long drive like Scott and me and others who made the drive from nearby.  In the mix of movie goers were the stars of the show.  Folks who had been interviewed for the movie and gave poignant accounts on Northern Pass’ negative impact on NH.

One of the most striking elements of the movie is the breathtaking beauty of New Hampshire.  Jerry and his team did an outstanding job – over nearly 2 years of work – capturing New Hampshire’s streams, hillsides, pastures and mountain tops. There were spots where Jerry and crew set up a camera for days to get a sense of the beauty of a hiking trail – from the wind swept grasses blowing in the morning to an amazing blanket of tiny dots in a star lighted sky.

The interviews included many home owners and business owners who would be impacted by the proposed Northern Pass transmission lines.  There was a young family whose home would only be yards away from the proposed lines.  A small business owner in Coos County and a home owner both told of their personal fight against the project and how they would never sell their property to the proponent of this project.

With view impact from nearly 93,000 pristine acres, the Northern Pass project would have devastating effects on NH’s beauty and the NH outdoor economy.  The growing outdoor economy in NH – from down hill skiing at Loon and Cannon Mountain to the hundreds of thousands of hikers in the White Mountains National Forest; from cross country skiing at Great Glenn or at the Mount Washington Hotel to sailing and paddling in Lake Winnipesaukee –  the outdoor economy is one of NH’s most important economic engines and a source of livelihoods for thousands of NH residents.

The Power of Place brings together the iconic views of New Hampshire, the incredible strength and commitment of NH citizens and reminds us of the sense of urgency in this fight against the Northern Pass project.  As the citizens of New Hampshire and New England fought to establish the White Mountain National Forest through the Weeks Act of 1911, it is now our time to protect this great land for generations to come.  For more on Jerry Monkman’s movie, please visit  http://ecophotography.com/power/

Advancing Maine Woods

With over 66,000 acres, Maine Woods is an exceptional outdoor recreational experience. AMC’s Maine Woods Initiative provided our community – donors, staff, volunteers, stewards, partners and others – with an incredible once-in-a-lifetime landscape scale conservation opportunity. A cohesive strategy helps to advance and sustain this beautiful wilderness while wisely leveraging every dollar of the $52,000,000 AMC has invested thus far.

Today Maine Woods has approximately 100 miles of some of the best wilderness trails. From back country escapes to wide logging roads – there are a variety of levels and conditions to meet the diverse needs of hikers, bikers, and cross country skiers. AMC’s current lodges – Little Lyford Pond Camp and Gorman Chairback Lodge – saw significant new investment, construction and renovation projects during the past few years. AMC’s Maine staff works hard to provide our guests with comfortable accommodations, wilderness programming, delicious meals and AMC “high-mountain hospitality”.

As the great word on AMC’s Maine Woods spreads – reported by guests, blogs, television shows, magazines and newspapers – so grows Maine Woods occupancy. This year, over 6,000 guests will experience the excitement and fun of this stunningly beautiful wilderness.

In addition to being an unparalleled outdoor escape, Maine Woods also contributes greatly to the outdoor economy. Restaurants, shops, local inns and sporting gear outfitters have all benefited from the spending by thousands of AMC Maine Woods visitors. It has been reported that Maine Woods guests spend approximately $120 on average in the local community. As more and more guests experience Maine Woods, the outdoor economy multiplier will increase as AMC adds more trails and new facilities to accommodate the demand. AMC’s investment and strategy in the Maine Woods also includes a considerable sustainable forestry operation.

A portion of the AMC acreage is available for sustainable timber harvesting. This forestry operation continues the rich tradition of Maine forestry while bringing in important revenue to support the larger Maine Woods land management operation. We will also continue to work on our recreational trails infrastructure in the 100 mile wilderness. The Maine Woods trails infrastructure will provide exciting trails and outdoor experiences – appealing to broad group of outdoor enthusiasts. AMC trails will provide connections to regional trails infrastructure, fostering outstanding outdoor adventures.

We will continue to collaborate with our great partners – including the Town of Greenville, Piscataquis County, the State of Maine and others to continue to position Maine as an outstanding leader in outdoor recreation. Our staff and volunteers are working with government and partner organizations to develop new branding and promotional strategies to continue to build the region’s brand identity and brand leadership in the outdoors.

Maine Woods has succeeded thanks to a robust outdoor recreational plan and conservation leadership strategy. Thanks to the continued support of incredibly generous stewards, partners and supporters, Maine Woods will continue to thrive and have a positive impact on Maine’s outdoor economy.

Maine Woods supports a robust Outdoor Economy

Maine Woods supports a robust Outdoor Economy

Walk Off the War – for Our Veterans


2014 Walk off the War: Noble View Outdoor Center hosting our Veterans.

2014 Walk off the War: Noble View Outdoor Center hosting our Veterans.

To help him through the horrific experiences he endured during World War II, Earl Shaffer told friends that he was going to “walk off the war”. In 1948 Shaffer hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. The first person credited for through-hiking the trail from Georgia to Maine.

In 2012, Sean Gobin returned from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I heard Sean speak in DC this Spring, he said “I thought I was going to be a statistic – one of the 20% of Veterans who don’t make it.” Sean thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and he said he realized the therapeutic affects of the more than 2,100 miles. Sean was immersed in nature and tackling the elements along the way. Ultimately he realized this incredible achievement through hard work, persistence and supportive people he met along the way.

Sean founded Walk of the War to give returning Veterans the opportunity for the same experience. With terrific partners, Walk off the War now runs thru-hikes on the Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.

AMC had the honor to host participants in the Walk off the War program at our Noble View Outdoor Center in Russell, Massachusetts. Nestled in Western Massachusetts – near the Berkshires – Noble View is an oasis, minutes away from urban areas and larger population centers. This nature escape offers a rich trails system and beautiful facilities.

It was an honor to meet some of the thru-hikers. They represented different branches of the Armed Services. They spoke about their trek – now more than two thirds complete – and the days ahead hiking toward the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine. One of the Veterans said the hike had restored his faith in humanity – and the goodness of people.

We are indebted to our Veterans for their service. We need to continue to do our part close to home to get active outdoors; preserve these beautiful places for generations to come; and help more Veterans get onto the trail to experience the wonders of the natural world and the thanks of their grateful fellow citizens.

Cleaner Air and tackling climate change. EPA’s 111D

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed rule to the Clean Air Act.  111D will – among other things – help to move to reduce and regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants.  This rule will help to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.  This is one of several moves that hope to achieve our nation’s overall goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030.

111D will require states to work with the EPA to develop standards of performance.  The system that has been designed under 111D is being called the “best system for reduction in emissions” (BSRE).  States will be given upwards of 15 years to implement their systems – determined by what they can reasonably achieve.  Closing down some of our nation’s worst coal-fired plants; increasing the move to cleaner fossil fuels like natural gas; and developing a broader array of alternative energy sources, are all part of BSRE.

As we work to lower GHG emissions and advance alternative energy sources, we must work more collaboratively. Not only by working more collaboratively between states but also between nations – we need to think about a more global citizen grass roots green effort. AMC would like to be conservation’s outdoor recreational voice.  We are working to get more people active in the outdoors but also encouraging those who are active to be good conservation stewards.

While this proposed rule is an important and welcome change, it also focuses our individual responsibility to do more.  At AMC, we’ve recently launched a conservation campaign.  Our message is simple: the cleanest energy is the energy not used.  As outdoor citizens, we ask what can we do to lower our own carbon footprint.  From recycling and reuse to car sharing and water conservation – there are too many ways to have our own personal positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions.  Together we can work on all fronts to reduce GHG and make the planet a better place for future generations to enjoy and prosper.