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Two Thunder Bay forestry students develop hiking app

Apr 27, 2018 04:04PM ● Published by Editor

Confederation College forestry students, Katherine Couzelis and Graeme Saukko-Sved have turned their end-of-term class assignment into a business. They are holding a fundraiser on May 2 at the Sleeping Giant Brewery to raise funds to create an app that helps people find hiking trails in northwestern Ontario. (Amy Hadley / CBC)

Two forestry students from Confederation College in Thunder Bay, Ont. have turned their end-of-term assignment into a business idea after their teacher advised them to seek out partners in the community for support.

Katherine Couzelis and Graeme Saukko-Sved have developed an app that will highlight over 800 kilometres of hiking trails in northwestern Ontario. 

"My sister got lost on a hiking trail and I got really worried about that," Couzelis explained on the CBC's Superior Morning. "A horseback rider actually led her to her car and gave her a really awesome map to help her."

She said that incident sparked the idea of mapping out the hiking trails surrounding the Lakehead since both she and Saukko-Sved enjoy hiking.

"Katherine came out with this idea [and] at first I thought someone has already done that before and then realized, okay, no one has actually done that," Saukko-Sved said, "so we started collecting maps and making a big map to see where we're going to go ... and it slowly grew and grew from there."

Partnering with the community

The two students quickly realized that there were several different sites that featured hiking trials in northwestern Ontario, but there wasn't anything that consolidated all the trails into one map, on one website.

"We just decided, ok we're going to bring it all together [and] we're going to partner up with conservation authorities [and] all these different places that have trail networks and bring it all together into one place," Saukko-Sved said.

So far, according to Couzelis, the pair have mapped out all the trails from the U.S. border to Nipigon and they've decided to partner with a local marketing and communications agency to help them develop an app which is expected to be launched in June.

"For the project, we did make a little beta app that we presented to our class, but we looked around for the right partners who could do it better than us," Couzelis said.

"Basically after we did this project for school, our teacher loved it and he urged us to go see the innovation centre."

She said from there, the two were able to meet representatives from organizations such as the Lakehead Regional Conservation Authority and the tourism team at the City of Thunder Bay.

Making an app

With Tourism Northern Ontario now on-board as a partner and Ontario Parks providing them with the data they have, the two are making an app that will not only show you all the trails in your area, but it will also provide you with information on what you can expect on the trail, the difficulty of the hike, the distance, names and even the elevation profile.

However in order to make their app a reality, the students are hoping to raise a total of $10,000 through a fundraiser at the Sleeping Giant Brewery as well as a crowd-source campaign called Indigogo.

"We are launching it on the day of our event which is May 2, so next Wednesday [and] this is going to urge the community to get involved and support this app because it is a community initiative," Saukko-Sved said.

She said for every $10 donated, the two will also plant a tree as a way to give back to the community.

The students are currently working on getting the app into the app store, and once that's complete, they'll focus on adding more features.

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