We all know that the outdoors served as a vital outlet during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trail and park managers around the globe reported increased use as people took to nature for their personal wellbeing. Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) recognized the need to understand the pandemic’s impact on trails and hired Cycle Forward to lead the research.
Dates: March – December 2020
Client: Pennsylvania Environmental Council (returning client)
Project Type: Trail Research, Outdoor Recreation Economy
The trails community noticed a surge in trail use when “Stay at home” orders were issued in Pennsylvania in March 2020. Reports of overflowing trash cans and parking lots suggested that a mass rediscovery of the outdoors was taking place. People had turned to trails in an uncertain time. Most trail advocates were delighted by the increased interest, even as they had to navigate added strain and the need to ensure safe trail experiences.
PEC hired Cycle Forward to research the pandemic’s impact on Pennsylvania non-motorized trails. The research was conducted from March – May 2020 and was repeated in the Fall.
- Spring Report
- Fall Report
- Related Pennsylvania Legacies Podcast episode: The Long Weekend
The project methodology included hearing directly from the trail managers, analyzing electronic trail counts, and observing regional and national news pertaining to changes in trail use. Cycle Forward surveyed trail managers from around the state concerning their perceptions on how the pandemic was impacting trails, measurable changes in use, and how these changes were impacting the organizations that manage trails. Surveying managers on their perceptions proved to be useful in parsing out perspectives based on trail type, length, and location. The trail count analysis was conducted by Brian Malcarne of York College, using data provided by the trail managers as well as other publicly available count data.
Knowing that the Spring research provided data on only a two-month period, PEC decided to re-engage Cycle Forward to repeat the project in the Fall. This enabled the project team to assess the pandemic’s impact across the entire 2020 season.
- Spring and Fall reports
- Supporting research: trail manager surveys and trail count analyses
The Spring research provided some of the earliest research on the pandemic’s impact on non-motorized trails. Having the research enabled PEC and its partners to understand what was taking place. The report’s subtitle tells the story: “Increased Use, Added Strain, and a Newfound Appreciation.” Understanding the overall impacts as well as some of the subtleties positioned PEC to inform trail managers, state agencies, legislators, and others throughout the 2020 season and into 2021. Both the Spring and Fall research were used in legislative updates and other scenarios in which PEC shared the message that “organizations that manage trails need support now more than ever.”