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Pedestrian and Vehicle Counters Installed to Assess Recreational Use of Parks

Published on: 04/02/2024
Primary Contact(s): sarah.gonyo@noaa.gov

To prioritize investments in protection and restoration, managers need to know how people value natural resources and if management actions affect those values. Social scientists at NCCOS are using human mobility data to assess recreational use of public outdoor spaces. In addition to using anonymous data derived from cellular phone locations to estimate visitation to natural areas, NCCOS social scientists have worked with local partners to install pedestrian and vehicle counters at parks in Virginia and Mississippi.

Eight counters were installed in parks surrounding the York River in Virginia, and two counters were installed in the Grand Bay NERR in Mississippi. Three different types of counters were installed both above and below ground, including TRAFx pedestrian and vehicle counters, and Eco-Counter pedestrian counters. These counters will be left in the field for at least a year to collect hourly visitation data, which will be used to calibrate human mobility data and fill data gaps resulting from recreators who don’t use cell phones, location sharing being turned off, or cellular dead zones, to better understand outdoor recreation in these areas.

The pedestrian counters sense and detect the infrared wavelength that people emit up to 15 feet away, whereas the vehicle counters use magnetometers to detect passing vehicles from up to 20 feet away. This data will ultimately allow decision-makers to make informed and sustainable choices in outdoor recreation management, benefiting both visitors and the environment while ensuring effective preservation of natural resources.

A) Luke Hillier (Gloucester Parks, Recreation, and Tourism) and Greg Wilson install a pedestrian counter at Beaverdam Park, B) Sarah Gonyo and Amy Freitag inspect a vehicle counter at Gloucester Point Beach Park, C) Nicholas Herod (National Park Service), Ramesh Paudyal, and Ryo Murasaki (National Park Service) install a vehicle counter at Colonial National Historical Park


A) Ramesh Paudyal locks up a pedestrian counter at York River State Park, B) Tanner Working (Machicomoco State Park), Ramesh Paudyal, and Josh Mazzatenta (Machicomoco State Park) finish installing a counter at Machicomoco State Park, C) Vehicle counter at New Quarter Park


A) Jonathan Pitchford (GNDNERR) and Ramesh Paudyal install a post to secure an Eco-counter along the boardwalk trail at Grand Bay NERR, B) Ramesh Paudyal, Sarah Gonyo, Sandra Bilbo (GNDNERR), and Jonathan Pitchford in front of an Eco-counter at Grand Bay NERR, C) Jonathan Pitchford and Ramesh Paudyal install an Eco-counter along the Savanna trail at Grand Bay NERR

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