This free walking tour app knows where you are on the Atlanta Beltline

AJC photojournalist Ben Gray ran the 22-mile Atlanta Beltline and documented his experience. Watch his video and track his run on the interactive map.

“Look over your shoulder,” the friendly voice in my earbuds prompted, promising an amazing view of the Midtown skyline.

And there it was! With all the time I’d spent on the Atlanta Beltline’s Eastside Trail, I wondered, why hadn’t I ever stumbled across that turn-around-and-gawk experience on my own?

Not to mention …

How did Jim Wilson pretty much know exactly where I was at that moment?!

Wilson (aka the voice in my ears) is the creator and narrator of BeltTour, a new “location-aware” audio walking tour of the Beltline’s Eastside Trail. Available for free in the App Store, it’s chock full of interesting history about the area the trail passes through; “you are there”-type interviews with artists and Trees Atlanta experts as you’re walking past their various projects and plantings; some background on urban planning and the impressive Beltline project itself; plus, what Wilson accurately describes as “hidden gems.”

The end result is a tour with appeal both for Beltline first-timers and regulars alike.

“I came up with the idea while walking the path. There is just so much cool stuff everywhere you look,” Wilson wrote via email from his honeymoon location. “I live near there and always take my visiting friends, so I figured an ‘app for that’ would actually be useful.”

What really makes it special, though, is its location-specific aspect. By using a phone’s GPS, the narration, interviews and even some accompanying photographs, essentially keeps pace right along with the tour walker. You don’t have to use it — the app also features a chapter list so you can just play (or replay) that section on “The 33 Oaks Project” or “The Atlanta Crackers” stadium, for instance, or resume where you left off. It’s also a way to “force play” the audio if the GPS feature is not working for some reason.

But why wouldn't you want to use it, Wilson wonders?

“Some famous quote describes good technology as ‘indistinguishable from magic,’” he said about the app that took him several months to build at night and on weekends. “I didn’t want people to have to constantly interact with their phone and be constantly ‘pulled out of the moment.’ I wanted them to be able to enjoy the walk without thinking about their phone.”

(This isn’t the only way to tour the Beltline, of course. The Atlanta Beltline Partnership offers a variety of excellent guided tours, including a fascinating Aboretum Walking Tour conducted several times each week by Trees Atlanta docents. For more information, go to beltline.org/tours).

The BeltTour isn’t affiliated with or endorsed by Atlanta Beltline Inc., Atlanta Beltline Partnership or the city of Atlanta. The approximately 60-minute, 1-1/2 mile tour starts near Piedmont Park at the intersection of Monroe Drive and 10th Street and ends not far from the other end of the paved trail, near Parish restaurant.

And even then it doesn't really end. Wilson wound up with so much good audio content, including interviews, he couldn't use it all; some of it will be included in future updates of the app and he's already begun releasing some of it as podcast episodes. Go to www.BeltTour.com for more information and to check out some audio samples of the tour.

Related: Walkin’ and Gawkin’: The Beltline Arboretum Tour and four other great local walking tours

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