New DNR Smartphone app helps Minnesota outdoors enthusiasts

BRAINERD, Minn. -- The dock was barely visible, buried in snow and stowed in the woods on the edge of the access. Signs acknowledged that this indeed is a lake access. But with a new, thick blanket of snow, the parking lot, access and Sibley Lake...

BRAINERD, Minn. -- The dock was barely visible, buried in snow and stowed in the woods on the edge of the access. Signs acknowledged that this indeed is a lake access. But with a new, thick blanket of snow, the parking lot, access and Sibley Lake all blended together in a sea of white.

Regardless, if you don't know Sibley, you might not find your way to this access, on the north end of the lake at the dead-end off North Oak Street in Pequot Lakes, Minn. Might not know it even exists.

Now, thanks to a new, free smartphone app from the state Department of Natural Resources, that information -- including a "live" map that will take you right to the access -- is available for most iPhone and Android phones.

Also new from the DNR is a LakeFinder app for Android phones and downloadable GPS maps of snowmobile trails and wildlife management areas for use on Garmin or Lowrance GPS units.

The MN Water Access app might be the most extravagant of the new offerings. Working with Google Maps and utilizing the Layar software platform, it indicates all of the lake accesses in a radius of up to 15 miles. Click on an access and you get the name of the waterway (lakes and rivers), your current distance from the access and a list of directions. Click on the "Take Me" tab and you get a "live" map from your current location to the access.


And if you're already at the lake of your choice but can't find the access, just point your smartphone at the lake and it will locate the access for you. Most of the public state-managed access sites, as well as many of the private access points, are available.

In addition, an "Access" tab gives you detailed information about the access (number of ramps, parking spaces, parking auto/trailer spots, handicap accessible spaces, docks and toilets, a list of directions and an aerial map of the access) and a "Lake Survey" tab provides extensive information about a lake (general info, lake characteristics, the most recent fish sampling/survey, stocking information, fish consumption guidelines of the fishery and the status of the fishery as of the most recent sampling/survey).

The LakeFinder app is essentially the same as the popular link on the DNR website by the same name. According to the DNR, data for more than 4,500 lakes and rivers throughout Minnesota, including lake surveys, depth maps and vegetation reports, plus water quality and clarity data, are available for most Android phones.

The snowmobile trails GPS maps give snowmobilers their exact location and where a trail will take them, the DNR said. Users can download a background map (Garmin IMG format) containing Minnesota snowmobile trails, including state trails, trails within state parks, state forests and other state-owned lands, as well as snowmobile trails funded through the Grant-In-Aid snowmobile system.

For wildlife management area data, users can download data and locations for all state wildlife management areas to their GPS. Parking lot and WMA boundary information is available in two common GPS formats -- Garmin and Lowrance -- and available in Garmin IMG and Lowrance LCM formats, the DNR said.

For more information and to download the apps, go to

Last year, the DNR website had 1.3 million page views by mobile devices, the agency said. As of mid-March, the mobile LakeFinder app had nearly 3,000 installs based solely on word of mouth and the snowmobile GPS files were downloaded more than 3,000 times, the DNR said.

"We wanted to keep it modest the first go-around," Steve Lime, DNR data and applications manager, said of the agency's foray into the mobile apps market. The DNR launched a simple fall colors mobile web page in October, but this is its first true apps offerings.


"We also would like to look at Blackberry and other platforms," he said of expanding beyond Android and iPhone smartphone apps. "We'll see how this first go-around goes and take feedback from users and try to incorporate that in the next version.

"I think it's going to happen," he said when asked if iPhone users, too, will have access to the popular LakeFinder. "It's just a matter of time. Maybe sometime this summer, but that's just a guess."

The DNR plans to support other operating systems and file formats in the future, it said.

"There's a wealth of opportunity for the agency but nothing is imminent at this point," Lime said of future apps. "There's been a lot of discussions. We could we do something with fishing regulations or different types of recreation opportunities. It's a very rich market."

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