071915 hiawatha 10 lb.jpg

The Hiawatha bike trail is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Pacific Daylight Time) daily through Sept. 27. The day use pass is $10 for people older than 13 and $6 for those between the ages of 6 and 13. 

LOREN BENOIT, Missoulian

The Mineral County Historical Society is giving travelers a chance to be their own tour guides as they visit the area, using a new smartphone app to help lead the way.

David Strohmaier, a project manager with the Missoula-based Historical Research Associates, said the Bitterroot Economic Development District had been working with Mineral County for years to help boost tourism to the area. His company partnered with them when they decided to put more emphasis on digital.

“Then it was a matter of us, on the technical side, working with stakeholders to identify what aspects of their heritage they most want to showcase and capitalize on to bring tourists into the county,” Strohmaier said.

HRA worked to integrate information about historical locations in the county into its Next Exit History smartphone app, a free download for iPhone and Android devices.

The company has been working on it for about three years, with more than 60,000 historical locations around the world now included in its database. During its 40-year history, the company has worked on a variety of tourism information initiatives, including helping to design interpretive signs and brochures.

“We have long struggled with ways in which we can make history come alive to the general public, especially with so many people in this nation and around the world getting their information on smartphones,” Strohmaier said.

Some of the locations the app now features in Mineral County include the Savenac Nursery, Mineral County History Society Museum, Route of the Hiawatha and the Mullan Road.

Next Exit History includes a feature called Backpacks that Strohmaier said is particularly useful in places like Montana, where cell reception can sometimes be limited. Backpacks are collections of historical sites packaged together based on location or theme that can be downloaded and available offline through the phone app. HRA created a handful of Backpacks for Mineral County.

“We have one for all of the sites in Mineral County, and one that’s just on the Route of the Hiawatha. Some other ones have a number of themes, such as the 1910 fires or Mullan Road, where we created mini-Backpacks for people only interested in one of those themes,” Strohmaier said.

Another aspect of the app is History Hunters, which adds an interactive game layer to learning about history. Using GPS on their phones, people can “check in” at historical locations they are visiting, earning virtual points and badges the more places they go to. History Hunters also includes trivia questions about some of the locations included in Next Exit History.

“So you will need to answer the question based on either what you’re reading in the app, or through interpretive signs at the site,” Strohmaier said. “The goal with that is really to foster learning.”

In addition to the smartphone apps, HRA made a website, mineralmthistory.com, that mirrors the content from the app. The app and website were paid for with $40,000 in digital tourism marketing dollars from the Montana Office and Tourism and Business Development.

The Mineral County Historical Society will host an event celebrating the launch of the digital tourism initiative from 3-4 p.m. Jan. 21 at the St. Regis Community Center. The event will include demonstrations on some of the best ways visitors can use the Next Exit History app to enhance their trips to Mineral County.

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Law and Justice Reporter

Crime reporter for the Missoulian.