Thursday, September 3, 2009

Trail User Surveys -- Find One Near You

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RTC Surveys Trail Users in Pennsylvania

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Northeast Regional Office is conducting interactive user surveys for rail-trails throughout Pennsylvania. The first completed survey was of the 64-mile Pine Creek Trail in north-central Pennsylvania. "Slightly more than 1,000 trail users responded to the survey over an eight-month period," says Carl Knoch, manager of trail development for the Northeast Regional Office.

Feedback from these surveys provides important information on levels of rail-trail use and how much economic impact rail-trails can produce for local communities. Questions on the surveys include how many nights visitors stay in local accommodations during their trail visit, how much they spent on items like beverages, snacks, sandwiches, ice cream and meals, and where people travel from to use the trails. "One of the most surprising statistics we received was that respondents came from 57 of the 67 counties in the state," says Knoch.
Trail managers use this data to understand the type and frequency of users their trail sees.

Since the Pine Creek survey, funded by Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, RTC has placed infrared counters in select areas. Though often unnoticed by trail visitors, these counters can greatly enhance user profile analysis.

Following the Pine Creek survey, Knoch and Patricia Tomes, program coordinator for the Northeast Regional Office, are completing the analysis for the 19.5-mile Perkiomen Trail outside of Philadelphia. Also, this past fall Tomes placed two dozen survey boxes on the Schuylkill River Trail. The surveys will be available for an entire year. Tomes says the next survey project will be held this spring on the Ghost Town Trail in Indiana County.

The vast majority of trail managers don't have the ability or funding to conduct surveys or measure user counts. So when trail managers are able to utilize these resources RTC provides, their leverage in seeking more maintenance and operation funding grows exponentially—not to mention their case for extending their trail or building others.

RTC is currently talking with other states about the possibilities of expanding this initiative. In the meantime, if you are visiting a rail-trail in Pennsylvania, be sure to look out for a survey to share your voice.

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