Many park and recreation professionals face the challenge of selecting between a large number of data sources. A 2016 NRPA research survey found that 27 percent of parks and recreation professionals find the amount of data available overwhelming.
When it comes to adding a counting program to the many sources of data available to understand visitors and trail users, focusing on the main desired outcomes is a good place to start. A study on monitoring trail use identified deciding on both who will be using the data and for what purpose as the first step for beginning to collect count data.
Depending on what you’d like the outcome of count data to be for your park, permanent, mobile or a combination of both types of counters can be used. Here are several main outcomes for starting a counting program with automatic counters on parks and trails:
- More Efficient Operations and Maintenance
Pinpoint times of peak traffic on trails and at entrances by placing counters at key locations. Great Rivers Greenway uses continuous count data to schedule safety measures, such as deploying officers on secondary duty, at times of peak traffic volume. Maintenance can be focused on high traffic areas where a need for maintenance will occur first. For example, high traffic areas can be prioritized for snow plowing.
- Enriched Data on Your Visitors or Trail Users
If your main goal is to gain visitation data to a park or outdoor facility, then placing counters at entrances is a great way to know how many are visiting. Temporary counters can be installed solely for seasonal visitation data and can also be moved from entrance to entrance. Permanent counters can gather in-depth data on the mode of transportation of your visitors or trail users.
Sioux Falls Parks and Recreation started a counting program using several MULTI counters to determine how wide paths and trails should be to prevent conflicts.
- Strengthened Communications and Funding Applications
Count data can help make the case that demand for programs or facilities exists. Annual visitor counts show the usage of a park by a community. High Park Zoo, in Toronto’s largest public park, counted over 500,000 visitors annually using the PYRO-Box, helping to reinstate operating funding in 2014.
Make sure to plan for consistent data collection- plan ahead for the needed staff resources and training. Year-on-year trends are invaluable for communicating how demand for trails or outdoor facilities has evolved.