by Gwenyth Loose, CPRP, Executive Director, York County Rail Trail Authority
April 19, 2023
It all began in 1997 with a phone call from someone wanting to volunteer their services to survey the growing number of visitors to the York County Heritage Rail Trail. The offer was being made by Carl Knoch, who would later go on to chair the York County Rail Trail Authority for an amazing eighteen years. But on this day, my curiosity peaked and I agreed to meet Carl to better understand the free services he was offering.
I was in my first year as project coordinator for the York County Rail Trail Authority and dipping my feet into writing grant applications. Maybe Carl’s offer could strengthen some of my responses to those challenging essay questions. You know the ones where my responses of “We have lots of people using the completed sections of our trail” and “All ages use the trail, mostly for cycling” were just not bringing in the grant funds. I needed data.
Since 1997, seven surveys have been completed on the Heritage Rail Trail, and the data collected has been used to garner over $16 million in grants. Yes, surveys offer a roadmap to success!
Here is a sampling of what the Heritage Rail Trail County Park 2022 User Survey and Economic Impact Analysis revealed. The full report will be available later this spring at www.yorkcountytrails.org.
- Annual visits were at 263,856.
- Economic impact of $3.5 to $4.4 million annually to the local economy.
- Over 77% of visitors are from York County, a steady increase from 62.7% in 1999.
- Nearly 85% of visitors are over the age of 35, with the most represented groups being 56-65 and 66 and older.
- Cycling continues to be the most popular activity constituting approx. 35%, while walking and jogging are on the rise at 29% and 12% respectively in 2022.
- 67% of visitors use the trail for health & exercise, a steady increase from 44% in 2004.
- Average spending per person per visit for soft-goods such as food and drink was a little over $20 in 2022.
Establishing the methodology for data collection and analysis is most important when planning to conduct a trail or park survey. In order to identify trends, it also becomes important to standardize the questions being asked. Consistency in data collection includes conducting surveys at the same time of year, positioning trail counters at standard locations, and offering paper survey forms and a return box at each trailhead, even if a QR code is provided for online responses. While most of this work can be done by volunteers or staff, data analysis is best left to the experts. Perhaps the next time your office phone rings, the person on the line will be another “Carl Knoch.”