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In an effort to better connect with visitors, particularly its younger guests, La Purisima Mission and State Historic Park has welcomed a new mascot and has officially entered the 21st century — at least as it relates to technology.

Leaders of the Lompoc-area mission, which is perhaps best known for its so-called “living history” demonstrations, are set to introduce a new interactive program that park guests can utilize on their smartphones to learn more about the mission and to also participate in scavenger hunt-style explorations.

The program is part of “Agents of Discovery,” an augmented-reality, geo-triggered app that aims to engage users with the world around them.

In connection with the free app, which is available on Google Play and in the Apple iTunes store, the mission has also introduced Ranger Hoot Hoot, a horned owl avatar that serves as a visual reminder of the park’s leap into the smartphone era.

Information about the app, as well as other programs being offered at La Purisima Mission this summer, will be featured during a first-of-its-kind summer kickoff event at the mission scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 22.

“We’re really excited about it,” State Park Interpreter Ann Boggess said of the kickoff event. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

The summer kickoff will serve as the official rollout of the mission’s connection with the “Agents of Discovery” app.

La Purisima Mission was one of five state parks selected to receive a state grant, worth about $5,000, to cover the costs of becoming implemented within the app.

Users who download the app — which can now be done at the mission, thanks to newly installed Wi-Fi in the visitor’s center — and select La Purisima Mission will be greeted with a prompt informing them that they are on a mission “to solve the mysteries of La Purisima Mission. Who built it? Who lived here? Why was it built at La Purisima Mission State Park? How has it been used over the years?”

After tapping to continue, the user is told: “There’s over 200 years of history to investigate for the answers. Are you ready? Let’s go!”

Boggess said she is looking forward to seeing people utilize the app to explore the 2,000-acre mission mission, which is the most restored in the state. She acknowledged that even she had to be sold on it.

“It’s a fun little game for the kids — some of it is serious and some of it is just playful,” she said. “It’s a nice mix.

“I was surprised at how much I actually liked it because I really don’t like the idea of video games when kids are in parks,” she added, laughing. “But, I don’t know that we can get away from that.”

Visitors who don’t have smartphones will be able to borrow one of 10 devices that will be available in the visitor’s center, Boggess said.

Kids who complete the scavenger hunt on the app will be offered a small prize, she said.

The app is the latest in a new push by the mission to use technology to expand its educational programs.

Boggess noted that mission rangers and docents this year also began using a new distance learning program that allows them to offer virtual field trips to classes around the state that normally wouldn’t be able to visit La Purisima Mission.

She said that program has already been used with schools in the Imperial Valley, Paradise and San Bernardino.

“We connect online and we take them through the mission,” Boggess said. “We have Skype and video-conferencing, so why not take that and move around and let them see everything and answer questions?

“Instead of just reading a book,” she later added, “they’re getting to walk through it and they’re getting to see what we do here and ask us questions. We try to make it really engaging.”

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Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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Reporter

Willis Jacobson covers news and other issues, primarily those that affect the Lompoc Valley and Vandenberg Air Force Base, for Lee Central Coast News. He is a graduate of The University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications.