App users rack up points by visting locations, searching for sites, and competing for prizes

   St. Helens Economic Development Corp. has launched a new mobile application designed to encourage St. Helens residents and visitors to explore new places in their community, learn local history, and engage with businesses.

SHEDCO launched its "St. Helens Steps Out" challenge last week through a mobile application, Action Bound.

SHEDCO Vice President Amanda Normine described the app as a combination scavenger hunt, geocaching and phone game, one where users rack up points and digital prizes.

"This project is geared to help you learn more about the history of the community and to highlight some of the amazing small businesses that are found here," Normine noted in an email to the Spotlight.

The challenge works like this: Download the "Action Bound" mobile application and search for the "St. Helens Steps Out" challenge. When it loads, the app will guide you through either the uptown Houlton Business District or the Riverfront District, depending on preference. There are a variety of challenges in the app, such as taking photos of yourself at a specific place, answering trivia questions, or visiting certain locations in St. Helens when prompted to as a means to rack up points.

When a user has completed all of the desired steps, he or she can upload it to the online leaderboard. The person who submits the top score on a completed challenge is eligible for a prize.

"The hope is that it will get other people, who aren't otherwise exploring, out there and exploring," Normine said.

When users go through the scavenger hunt, they also read facts and tidbits about St. Helens history, much of which was provided by the Columbia County Historical Society, Normine explained.

The first scavenger hunt is intended to familiarize locals and businesses with the app concept, with the intention to build on it in the future. In the long run, SHEDCO hopes to teach business owners, community groups, and even city staff how to use the app and build community-centered hunts, which could promote businesses, history, community parks, festivals, special events and more, Normine explained.

The app can be used to give local St. Helens residents a new way to explore the city, and can also can provide visitors and tourists something to do.

"We hope this will garner attention, and not only to get them to the steps of the business, but keep them in town," Normine said. "Especially when you have families ... the goal would be, if you're pulling people from Portland, let's give them something to do."

The Action Bound app platform is free to use, Normine explained. Businesses featured in the first scavenger hunt iteration of the app were asked to simply offer some type of incentive to entice potential app users.

"We really want business to buy into this. It's more about educating the community and educating us as well," Normine said. "Doing this has allowed us, by not charging, to have breathing room if it doesn't work."

SHEDCO is now running a contest that runs through Monday, May 28. The winner will receive a $25 gift certificate to a local shop or restaurant.

More scavenger-hunt challenges will be promoted throughout the summer, including one on July 4.

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