FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 22, 2016
CONTACT: Katherine Dowson, Friends of Pathways, 733-4534, email@example.com
New Data Indicates Value of Trails and Pathways
Today, Friends of Pathways will release 2015 summer and fall trail and pathway user counts that show current patterns of use–such as mode, time of day, direction and gender–for 18 locations. Count data, while expensive and time consuming to collect, is essential to making sound management decisions and understanding changes in user behavior and numbers over time.
The counts were prepared by Headwaters Economics and Friends of Pathways with support from the LOR Foundation in partnership with the Town of Jackson, Teton County, and the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The counts were collected to complement the Trails and Pathways Survey released in May 2015. That survey reported that nine out of ten respondents used trails and pathways in Teton County and that access to recreation and open space were highly valued by respondents.
“Count data will help to inform management decisions about trails and pathways, especially as we monitor changes over many years,” said Katherine Dowson, Friends of Pathways Executive Director. “Understanding who is using the trails, and when, will allow us to better manage our maintenance and outreach efforts as well as help to minimize user conflicts and ensure adequacy of the infrastructure.”
“Trail use data and counts are widely requested by recreation and conservation groups, but it isn’t easy to collect. This data is a first snapshot of what is happening in two concentrated and very popular areas: Cache Creek and Teton Pass” said Linda Merigliano, Recreation and Trails Manager for the Bridger-Teton National Forest, “and the trends over time will be even more interesting.”
General findings from the Pathways and Trails Counts include selected observations. For more detail, and to review the full counts interactively, go to www.friendsofpathways.org.
Walking Is The Most Prevalent Use Of Trails and Pathways
Walkers, mountain bikers, dog walkers and runners, and road bikers are the most common summer and fall users on area trails and pathways. Walking was the most prevalent use (21.8%) with mountain biking a close second (20.2%), and walkers/runners with dogs not far behind (15.5%).
Weekends Are Busier Than Weekdays
In general, most trails and pathways were busier on the weekend than on weekdays, especially those trails that provided longer loop options or were further from town. Tuesday also showed a high level of use for mountain bike trails in Cache Creek. Every trail or pathway has its own “rush hour” and quieter times. Some trails, like Old Pass Road, are popular in the mornings; others, like Hagen and the Snow King Summit Trail, are most frequently used in the middle of the day; while Josie’s Ridge and Nelson Drive (Putt-Putt) are late afternoon and early evening favorites.
Trail Design: The Key To Managing Separate Use Trails
Trails designed for a specific use are currently the most effective way to provide a quality experience while still managing diverse activities across the entire trail system. For instance, mountain bike specific trails are often more serpentine and less steep, while hiking specific trails have more direct lines. Designing trails with a particular activity in mind is easier than managing trail users with signs, and Ambassador and education programs. On the Arrow Trail, designed specifically for mountain biking, 95.2% of users were on mountain bikes. The Summit Trail on Snow King Mountain and Josie’s Ridge Trail showed a very predominant use of people on foot (>97%). There is very little user conflict reported on these trails since they are relatively single activity in nature.
As our trail system becomes more popular, serving the needs of multiple users will be the most effective way of reducing conflict and allowing for more user density. Further, as trail users become more sophisticated they typically prefer trails designed specifically for their interest.
Trail Use Is Concentrated Close to Town: Only 10% Of Users Go More Than Two Miles From the Trailhead
One of the biggest current issues about trail management in Teton County pertains to protecting resources, in particular our Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas. This data demonstrates that the Bridger-Teton National Forest provides access for a lot of people, using a variety of modes, and that the majority of use is concentrated within the first mile of the trail.
The trail with the highest use was the Snow King Summit Trail with a median count of 305 daily trail counts, 98.8% on foot. Other trailheads in the Cache Creek Area also showed high median use. However, that use decreased by as much as 90% after two miles from the trailhead. Data indicates that only 20 users ventured past the 2-mile counter on Cache Creek Road B during the survey period, indicating that people are mostly taking shorter close-to-home excursions.
Friends of Pathways and the Bridger-Teton will focus efforts at these close-to-home trailheads to ensure that resource damage, such as wildlife conflicts, waste, erosion and trail braiding are kept to a minimum. Stewardship and education programs will be altered to facilitate outreach to the greatest amount of users.
Trails on Teton Pass showed approximately half the median use of Cache Creek, but were popular for longer outings. The Arrow Trail had a median of 61 users per day, while Ski Lake Trail had 97 median users per day. Ski Lake is for foot and equestrian traffic only; Arrow is designed for sustainable mountain bike use, but also allows foot traffic.
Pathway count locations were selected based on the need to learn more about the extent of use and the mix of users. The data collection also hoped to answer questions about whether infrastructure is ‘right sized’ for the level and type of activity and if there is a clear pattern of use, such as time of day, and direction of travel.
Counts on the recently completed segment of Path22 from the Wilson pedestrian/cycle bridge to Indian Trails were gathered during the first week of use, showing median counts of 87 with a maximum count of 211. Tracking will continue on this section to help determine its value to the pathways system, and whether use accelerates with the increase of vehicular traffic in the summer.
The Garaman pathway count, with a median daily count of 276, showed a similar count level to more popular Bridger-Teton trails There was also a high percentage of mountain and road cyclists observed, indicating a likely need to properly manage multiple user types to provide all users, including people walking or running, have the opportunity to enjoy a safe and high-quality experience on the pathway.
“We have done various forms of user counts on pathways over the past 10 years, including automated counters, cameras, and volunteers, but it is incredibly time-consuming and labor-intensive to collect, process, and analyze data that will be reliable and useful,” noted Teton County Pathways Coordinator Brian Schilling. “But with significant staff support through Friends of Pathways and using some of the newer counting systems now available, we are hoping to get consistent counts and easily-processed data that can show overall usage and changes over time, and that also will help the Town and County make sound decisions on new projects and maintenance.”
Friends of Pathways and Headwater’s Economics will continue to conduct counts at a variety of locations this winter and spring.
It is our hope to conduct these counts in future years to show changing levels and types of trail and pathway use over time.
This information may provide one way to think about the return on investment in Jackson Hole’s trails and pathways, and to assist with keeping pace with demand for these resources and managing their impacts.
“Jackson Hole has incredible trails and pathways,’ said Ben Alexander of Headwater’s Economics. “The counts data can make them even better by providing accurate use information to help manage and plan for the future of this system.”