The midday was hot, almost too hot. We should have started earlier.
The sky was excruciatingly blue. It was the kind of sky that says "today should be a perfect day" or "don't worry, be happy" or "here's something beautiful even if you are unhappy."
The child, 11, had just stepped away from an intense session coding his first Roblox game. The game was not done, far from it, but duty — or his mother, who had decided to test an outdoor scavenger hunt app — called.
Your reporter, a mother of three, envisioned a delightful excursion with lots of parent-child bonding. She should have known better.
Truth be told, I am a mildly outdoorsy person. Growing up in Montgomery County, I lived by a creek and spent a lot of time there, but my mom was hardly a hiker or camper. So I wanted to see how this app would affect someone like me.
Berks Nature introduced its app-based scavenger hunts in June. So far about 50 people have signed up, said Kim Murphy, president of Berks Nature. She said the organization bought a license to use the app, Goosechase, so it's free for users. It's available as iOS or Android.
Berks Nature has created two hunts so far. One is called Signs of Nature and is very child friendly. That game ends Monday, Aug. 3. A second game, which launched recently, has about 25 missions and is tied to Berks Nature Rx.
Rx is an initiative partnered with Penn State Health and Berks Medical Society geared at encouraging people to get healthy by getting outdoors. It's good for families.
Before heading out, I downloaded the app to my iPhone. Some outdoors advocates decry the distraction of digital technology and social media: I know "Pokemon Go" stops and gyms are the bane of some state park rangers' existence.
Connect with nature
But the Berks Nature hunts may be a way to use technology to connect more to nature, especially for those who don't often spend time outdoors.
I don't mind using apps outdoors. (Confession: I have checked Pokemon stops in state parks.) My son and I have used the Merlin Bird ID and ebird after his class had a birding unit during the pandemic at home school this spring. The Berks Nature Goosechase hunts may also get the always-on-the-phone crowd to slow down a bit. I know it did for me. I had envisioned that we would attempt a few missions of a hunt, maybe even complete it, but that isn't what happened.
My son and I started our hunt by heading to Saucony Creek and Marsh area, which features a path that meanders along the creek. I figured we should venture nearby but escape our backyard. My son's first complaint was that he couldn't download it to his phone. He has an old iPhone that is dependent on WiFi. So we'd have to work together.
How the hunts work is that participants complete activities set by Berks Nature (called missions), document them and share them via the app. You can opt to share them with others also participating in the hunt, and you don't have to use your name. Some are fun such as taking a picture of you hugging a tree. My son declined to do that, but someone had shared an adorable picture of two little girls hugging a tree.
Points for each activity
You get points for each activity, and you don't have to do the missions in order. My son liked that. In the app, you can see how you are doing compared to others on the same hunt. When you complete all of the activities — or missions — you qualify for rewards. I didn't complete the hunt, so all I can tell you is that Murphy said there are Berks Nature items and gift cards as rewards. But, we weren't in it for those kind of rewards.
So the first mission in Signs of Nature that we chose to do was called "That Rock Looks Like ..." I thought it sounded like a fun way to engage creativity. My son was feeling more ironic than imaginative, though he would argue irony is a creative response. He declined to be in the video but would lend his voice to our mission.
"Which rock do you want to do?" I asked my son as we stood at the entrance to the Saucony Creek path. "How about this one?"
While in the app, I aimed my phone at a triangular shaped rock and hit record.
"That rock looks like a rock," he said, deadpan.
Another mission: Take a picture of something that looks like it's starting to grow. That wasn't as easy in the middle of summer when everything has been growing, but my son found what looked like a small tree. Was it a tree or a bush or a weed? We weren't sure, but it was just starting to grow so we snapped a photo and hit submit.
One mission threw me for a loop. The mission asks "Is it Alive?" Oooh, interesting, I thought. I clicked on the mission: Text the definition of abiotic. As I stood along the creek I wondered what the definition of abiotic was and whether I should Google it there or wait until we got home. It should have been obvious, but it wasn't at the time.
We walked down the path, took a picture of a tree so that we could identify it for the mission "What Type of Tree is That?" We walked and soon found ourselves distracted by sights along the trail. My son insisted he saw a murder hornet. I did see a mosquito on my arm. It was hot and muggy, did I mention that? We headed home.
Missions in your backyard
Most of the missions can be done in your backyard. We counted trees in our backyard — two, including a former Christmas tree — for 300 points. The points range from 1,000 to make a video of a nature memory to 100 for defining a pollinator or the word deciduous.
Trying to go on a long hunt might not work for us. I think we will take it as a mission a day or every few days.
Murphy said Berks Nature intends to create hunts specific to the preserves it oversees, such as Neversink. That can be a great way to introduce people to different areas, and I'm looking forward to those.
To learn more about how to use the app (which is quite simple) go to https://berksnaturerx.com/goosechase/
I asked my son what he thought of our test.
"It has potential," he said.
And yes, he would do it again.
I just looked at my phone: our submissions to the hunt got four "likes." Maybe that will be an incentive to share more.