trail counting box on trail
July 15, 2017
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Making Minnesota’s trails count, one person at a time

In 2015, Parks & Trails Council initiated a program to collect data on how many people use Minnesota State Trails. That study was just the start, however, and we’re excited to announce we are expanding the program in 2017 with the addition of automated trail counting equipment.

We’ve purchased two sets of trail counters, and through a partnership with the DNR, we are installing them at select locations. Our trail counters are portable, can differentiate between pedestrians and bicyclists, and count trail users 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

chart showing trail counting data

Example data from Brown’s Creek State Trail near Manning Avenue

The use of automatic trail counting equipment will help us overcome several limitations of our 2015 study. Foremost, the automatic trail counters, because they can count continuously for weeks at a time, will enable us to calculate significantly more accurate estimates than did our 2015 manual counts. The automatic counters will also allow us to study how trail use varies daily and hourly. Once all the data is analyzed, it will assist trail managers in planning and policy decisions, and will guide our discussions with legislators about why trails are worth the investment.

Since we don’t have the resources (or the time) to count every mile of trail in a single summer, we’re focusing our efforts this year on the following state trails: Paul Bunyan in the north, Gateway and Brown’s Creek in the Twin Cities Metropolitan area, and Root River and Harmony-Preston in the southeast. We’ve selected sampling locations along each trail, and we will be installing our counters at each one for a week or two at a time.

We’ll move on to additional trails in future years to ensure all of Minnesota’s state trails are accounted for. Eventually, we’ll be able to return to the same sites on a regular cycle to measure long-term trends in trail use.

We started collecting data in mid-May and will have the counters in the field until early October. We’ll keep everyone updated on our progress and let you know when to expect the final results.