October 3, 2011
Happy trails: K-State professor travels the Midwest to document its beauty, creates GPS tours for Cheyenne Bottoms
Kansas State University's Ted Cable didn't stick to the old catchphrase "just the facts" when he undertook his mission to open travelers' eyes to the wonders of the state he has learned to call home.
Cable, a professor of park management and conservation in the department of horticulture, forestry and recreation resources, specializes in interpretation -- taking facts about the environment and turning them into stories and experiences that help in the understanding of the world's natural resources.
"I deal in feelings, not merely facts," he said. "I try to make it personal by telling compelling stories."
This is not simply done through a textbook. Cable has spent countless hours in his car becoming familiar with a part of the world that many consider to be boring to prove that's not the case. He racked up the miles on his odometer for two of his recent books and digital tours using global positioning technology.
"Interpretation is making meaningful connections between people and nature," Cable said. "I want to help people see the mundane miracles around us.
Together with BarZ Adventures, a company that produces self-guided touring and visitor guide application systems, Cable worked to create GPS tours for the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area in Great Bend and for three scenic byways in Louisiana.
Cable's role was to write interpretative scripts for tourists or locals visiting these areas, which along with video, slideshow imagery and voiceover accompaniment, are turned into full video productions, said Sunny Lozano, marketing manager for BarZ Adventures.
"Dr. Cable has been a fantastic resource for our organization to create interpretive scripts for a variety of tour productions for our customers. These have been successfully utilized for several projects," Lozano said.
BarZ Adventures offers tours through the GPS Ranger, a hardware-based product, as well as through smartphone applications, created through their GoExplore Smartphone App Platform, available on both Android and iPhone smartphones. However, Lozano noted that Great Bend's tours are currently available only through the GPS Ranger.
Cable said the GPS Ranger allows visitors to drive through the area, learning about its history and wildlife through content that is automatically triggered based on the user's location.
The units can be rented through the Great Bend Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Cris Collier, president of the bureau. Collier said the 12 GPS units were made possible through a grant from Kansas Tourism, and are also available at area motels.
Collier added that the collaboration between Cable and BarZ Adventures has led to increased interest as individuals get comfortable with the technology. "The tours deliver consistent and appropriate interpretation of the area, and are fun and easy to use," she said.
Cable's travel books -- "Driving Across Kansas" and "Driving Across Missouri" -- seek to accomplish similar goals of entertaining travelers while educating them about their location, but in a format that covers entire states. The books are mile-by-mile guides across the Interstate 70, usually with separate entries for both the east and westbound lanes.
The entries in the books provide interesting facts about individual farms and landmarks that Cable became curious about along the road. In "Driving Across Kansas," a westbound entry for mile marker 123 explains why the farmsteads in this region are hidden among dense strands of trees, usually known as a shelterbelt.
"I just drove up and down the highway, being observant, trying to connect people with what I was seeing," Cable said. "Some people said it was the ultimate challenge: to make I-70 less painful for people driving through Kansas."
Cable's mission was to make driving across the Midwest more interesting, even though he isn't a native Kansan. After moving to Kansas from Illinois, Cable said he grew tired of people complaining about how unexciting the state was.
"I had friends who told me they planned their trips so that they drove through Kansas at night," he said. "I got sick of people complaining about how boring Kansas is as they drive right by the beauty of the prairie."
While driving down I-70 in a Mustang convertible -- he said he liked to see the sky and smell the grass -- Cable would pick out interesting landmarks or even family farms and simply stop to ask about their significance.
Pulling up in a stranger's yard to ask about the land surrounding it was a little uncomfortable at times, but Cable said most people were interested in an opportunity to tell their stories. Once, he visited a farm around Kansas City and was invited in to sit down while the family showed them trophies from livestock shows and explained their family history.
"They were proud of it, and they should be," Cable said. "People don't realize the resourcefulness of these farmers; they're courageous people."
Cable's book on Kansas, which was co-authored with Wayne Maley, was released in 2003. His book on Missouri, co-authored with LuAnn Cadden, came out in 2010. The University Press of Kansas published both books. Two of his scripts for GPS tours in Louisiana are currently in production.