(Note: the following was written by Taylor Ballard and was first published in The Sewanee Mountain Messenger. Reproduced by permission.)
DECODING THE MOUNTAIN GOAT TRAIL
By Taylor Ballard, Messenger Intern
This Mountain is always finding new and interesting ways to connect with nature. One new innovative project, a series of QR codes on posts along the Mountain Goat Trail, was conceived and carried out by Forrest Pilkington as his Eagle Scout project. Pilkington is a senior at Franklin County High School and is the son of Rhonda Pilkington and Scott Pilkington of Monteagle.
QR codes, shorthand for Quick Response codes, are square-shaped matrix barcodes. When scanned with a smartphone or tablet, QR codes link the user to an online source of information.
“The codes are easily updated and can evolve and expand over time,” Pilkington said. “Once the QR signs were put up, it was just the beginning of their message. Their potential for change gives them a lasting meaningfulness.”
The five posts cover five topics: fauna, history, geology, flora and conservation. Each post was strategically placed in an area that the topic best represented. For example, the history QR code was placed near a railroad mile marker, a tangible piece history along the Mountain Goat Trail.
Unlike a traditional sign with limited data about one tree or plant species, the new QR codes allow for in-depth and interactive information to be accessed at the push of a button. Also unlike like a standard text marker, the information can be saved and shared.
“The internet is an incredible, flexible resource and can be used to teach more than any sign mounted to a post,” Pilkington said.
All the information could have been condensed into a single QR code, but Pilkington said he thought that dividing it into topics would enable trail users to obtain an optimal amount of information in a leisurely and effective way.
The Mountain Goat Trail Alliance, which oversees the trail, supported Pilkington’s project. “Finding modern technology on a nature trail is a pleasant surprise. It works so well because Forrest took such care to blend it into the natural environment while at at the same time providing new users of the trail a way to better understand its history, flora and fauna,” said Janice Thomas, board president of the MGTA.
Thomas also noted the historical symmetry of the project’s involving an Eagle Scout. “As many know, the original Mountain Goat initiative began as the Eagle project of Sewanee’s Ian Prunty,” Thomas said. “I know Ian will be pleased to see his work echoed by this new effort.”
The Mountain Goat Trail is projected to extend almost forty miles from Cowan to Palmer across Franklin, Marion, and Grundy Counties. The multiuse recreational trail will use the former Mountain Goat Railroad bed wherever possible. More information about the trail can be found at mountaingoattrail.org.
Pilkington’s QR code posts add a new level of interest and interaction to the Mountain Goat Trail. This project will be beneficial in helping raise awareness for the Mountain Goat Trail Alliance as it grows and expands.