A trail user checks out a survey on the Schuylkill River Trail in Philadelphia.
Another survey location on the
Schuylkill River Trail.
RTC Surveys Trail Users in Pennsylvania
Over the past three years, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's (RTC) Northeast Regional Office has conducted a number of user surveys for rail-trails in Pennsylvania.
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 Carl Knoch, manager of trail development for the Northeast Regional Office. Trail managers use this data to understand the type and frequency of users their trail sees.
The first completed survey was of the 64-mile Pine Creek Rail Trail in north-central Pennsylvania. "Slightly more than 1,000 trail users responded to the survey over an eight-month period," says Knoch.
Following the Pine Creek survey, Knoch, along with Pat Tomes, program manager for the Northeast Regional Office, completed a survey and analysis for the 19.5-mile Perkiomen Trail outside of Philadelphia; the 56-mile Schuylkill River Trail, running from downtown Philadelphia west to Valley Forge and north through Pottstown, Pa; and the 36-mile Ghost Town Trail in the coal mining region of western Pennsylvania.
Survey boxes were placed on the Schuylkill River Trail in 2008 and 2009. The final report was just released in February 2010. The Ghost Town survey took place through the summer and fall of 2009 and will be an effective tool to enhance the promotion of the Ghost Town Trail. "The Ghost Town Trail is a fabulous trail to visit and stay overnight," says Tomes. "The trail hasn't been promoted very much, so we are hoping the new survey will encourage regional visitor centers to really market this unique asset."
The vast majority of trail managers don't have the ability or funding to conduct surveys or measure user numbers, such as with infrared counters. 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.
Funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was used to support three of the four Pennsylvania surveys.