Danélle Cutting: Let’s spend more time in nature

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 1, 2019

Growing up I was always fascinated with nature, being outdoors, and wanting to know the names of plants, flowers, insects and birds I saw. At the time, my parents and grandparents seemed to be very knowledgeable of what was in their backyards but as I have grown, it seems like that familiarity with nature has gone to the wayside.

When I worked in Cooperative Extension, identification was one of the top questions I received from citizens. It kind of saddened me that long gone were the days when parents and grandparents could answer the questions a child might have about nature. I had all but given up that things might turn around until I heard about a program called the City Nature Challenge.

The City Nature Challenge in itself is just trying to get citizens, friends and families out to enjoy nature. The real prize is using the free app (or website) called iNaturalist. It is available for iPhone and Android and is probably one of the best identification apps I have ever seen.

The app or website can pinpoint where the photos were taken (perfect for parks) and tell what kind of species are in the area just from the photos collected. It is supposed to help identify insects, animals, plants, trees, mushrooms and even scat. Pretty interesting, right? I have even tried to trick this app to see how well it can identify photos. While I have tried to trick it only a few times, it is still usually able to have the correct answer in the list of possibilities.

Because of how interesting this app is, Hurley Park has decided to partner with Charlotte and Cabarrus County in the City Nature Challenge, Friday, April 26 through Monday, April 29. Schools, libraries, parks and citizens are encouraged to participate.

The City Nature Challenge is like a mini competition to take as many observations (photos) of nature during those four days as possible. You can take as many photos as you like, and you can even do large batches if you prefer. One other item of interest is that you can take the photos just about anywhere (parks, nature trails, backyards and of course, Hurley Park).

After the photos are uploaded and identified, people across the globe will help make sure you have identified the photo properly. Once it has been properly identified three times, it is uploaded into a database to help scientists across the world.

This competition has been increasing every year since it started and just last year, Cabarrus County surpassed Tokyo on photos submitted. Currently, Cabarrus County has over 13,000 observations. Rowan County has only had a little over 1,000 so we need to get in the game.

I hope you give iNaturalist a try throughout the year (use the app anytime) and also join us in the City Nature Challenge competition from April 26-29. There is no registration for the competition; you just have to download the app (or visit website) and create an account. Then, start taking photos with your phone or camera and upload to help identify what you saw. Who knows? You may find a rare species or help a scientist locate the species they’re studying.

If you want to learn more about iNaturalist or the City Nature Challenge, visit: https://www.inaturalist.org/ or http://citynaturechallenge.org/.

If you would like to learn more about Hurley Park or would like to donate or volunteer at the park, please contact us by email, phone or through our social media. For more information and to donate to Hurley Park, please visit: https://salisburync.gov/Government/Parks-and-Recreation/Parks/Hurley-Park, like us on Facebook and Instagram @HurleyParkSalisbury or call us at 704-638-4459.