By Kristina Kelly, Connecticut Trail Census Statewide Coordinator
Fall is a busy time for the Connecticut Trail Census team as we are nearing the end of our pilot year. We are so excited to have this important data finalized and ready for release in January 2018 so that our local communities can begin to put the data to use improving their local trail systems.
In September, volunteers and trail enthusiasts performed Intercept Surveys at our 15 participating trail sites. These surveys feature multiple choice and open-ended questions such as the user’s age range, motivation for using the trail, frequency of trail use, and whether they planned on spending money on that trip to the trail (such as stopping at a coffee shop in a community along the way). These questions are intended to collect valuable qualitative data that the Infrared (IR) Counters cannot. So far, we have received over 400 surveys from this fall session and the data is currently being compiled into a database for organization and presentation.
In other news, we are looking forward to presenting at the 2nd Annual CT Trails Symposium on October 19th. In addition to speaking about the current progress and planning for the future of the program, we will be unveiling a preview of how and where the survey data will be available to the public in January. Click here for more information on the Symposium and register to join us!
In the public outreach department, we have released a CT Trail Census Facebook page where we post program updates, connections with statewide trail groups, and useful articles regarding trail use! Check us out on Facebook and be sure to click “like” so our posts show up in your newsfeed.
Finally, at the end of this month, we will be collecting another round of quantitative data from the IR counters that are counting trail uses 24/7 on our trail sites! We will then perform preliminary analysis and continue working on calibrating and correcting this data for our final report release in January.
Stay tuned for more updates and feel free to reach out to me or visit our website if you would like more information or to get involved!
UConn Extension educators Laura Brown, Kristina Kelly, and Emily Wilson are presenting at the CT Trails Symposium on Thursday, October 19th. The CT Greenways Council, in partnership with Goodwin College, encourages you to engage in conversation about why and how to put your local trail systems to work for your community. Speakers and panels will use local examples to illustrate the demand for and benefits of local trails and how your community can sustain a world class trail system. Registration is only $25 and includes lunch. The full agenda is available online.
Kristina has experience coordinating volunteer data collection programs such as DEEP’s Riffle Bioassessment by Volunteers (RBV), and has developed a passion for citizen science as away to involve the community in environmental education, protection and advocacy.
She is currently pursuing a Master of Science degree in Geography with a concentration in Sustainability where she enjoys studying environmental protection, community engagement, and natural resources. At home, she enjoys gardening, photography and taking care of animals. She has two cats, a hamster, and maintains bird feeders for all of the neighborhood squirrels.
Stay tuned for trainings as we enter the fall data collection season as an opportunity to say “Hi!” to our new Coordinator, and to stay up-to-date in program goals and expectations.
Answering growing demand for alternatives to car based transportation and potential improvements to public health and quality of life, Connecticut has vowed to invest billions of dollars in new transportation infrastructure, including $100 million on pedestrian and bicycle paths. While interest in multi-use trails is growing, they can be expensive to build (estimated $1,000,000 per mile) and community leaders are often asked to quantify the health and quality of life benefits. This was the case for a group of community leaders along the Naugatuck River Greenway (NRG), a proposed 44-mile multi-use trail that will run through eleven communities from Derby to Torrington when fully built. Committee members wanted to know: Who uses trails? How and when do people use trails? How much are people spending when they use the trail? What are other potential economic, public health, and quality of life impacts? What can we learn from other trails in our region? How can the trail support brownfield remediation?
In 2016, UConn Extension Educator Laura Brown partnered with the UConn School of Business Center for Community Economic Analysis, the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments and the Naugatuck River Greenways Council on a multi-year research project to quantify the potential economic impacts of constructing the NRG, and provide recommendations to municipalities on how to maximize impacts during and after trail construction.
The study involved a literature review, collecting trail count data using infrared counters, a trail user intercept survey on five existing sections of the trail, three focus groups with trail administrators, local business owners, public health professionals along a similar fully built trail, and deployment of a Regional Economic Impact Model (REMI) analysis to estimate total economic impacts of the proposed trail. The analysis included estimates of construction costs, operating expenditures, user amenity benefits, user expenditures, as well as potential impacts on population, employment, income, and fiscal impacts. Reports from the study can be found at http://s.uconn.edu/nrg
The findings of the study showed that this trail, when fully constructed, could have a significant and positive impact on communities in the region. But, those impacts aren’t inevitable even if the trail is built. Trails have to be used, promoted, maintained, and the community, both residents and businesses must be engaged in using and developing the trail. The greatest potential economic impact would result from increased consumer spending by users as well as costs of construction, expansion and maintenance. Currently trail users are spending about $5.8 million annually on items related to trail use (including gear, rentals, clothes, and food) and this could rise to about $85.2 million by 2030 when the trail is fully built. Direct construction expenditures may reach $77.2 million by the year 2030.
Consumer surplus and health benefits also accrued significant economic value over time, including benefits to residents who don’t even use the trail or live in the same zip code as a trailhead. Consumer surplus describes the difference between how much people might be willing to pay to use the trail and how much they actually pay. This includes costs that are avoided like paying for gas to drive to a trailhead or for medical care as a result of health problems. Residents within closest proximity to trailheads and those nearby are expected to realize a combined annual consumer surplus of $13.8 million. That would be expected to rise to about $90.7 million by 2030 when the trail is fully built.
The more people that use the trail, the greater the economic benefit will be. Many users walk or bike on the trail often enough to realize health benefits by reducing incidents of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. The net present monetized value of health-related benefits would be expected to increase from about $10.4 million currently to $71.1 million in 2030.
The study has yielded other benefits beyond the impact numbers. As a result of the project, many other trail groups expressed interest in gathering data on their own trails to better understand their users and make better investments. UConn Extension partnered with the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments and received a $62,000 recreational trails grant from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to expand the study to 15 other trails around the state, a project called the CT Trail Census.
 LetsGoCT. Connecticut’s Bold Vision for a Transportation Future. (2015). Retrieved November 15, 2016 at http://www.governor.ct.gov/malloy/lib/malloy/2015.02.18_CTDOT_30_YR_Vision.pdf
The Let’s Talk Trails event held in October at Torrington City Hall was arguably a gathering of the most important people involved in trail development, construction and maintenance in the state of Connecticut. Bruce Donald, Chairman of the Connecticut Greenways Council and President of the Farmington Valley Trails Council, Clare Cain of the Connecticut Forest and Parks Association (CFPA), and Laurie Giannotti of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) all participated, offering their collective experience in a series of brief presentations. Other panelists included Bruce Dinnie, Director of Vernon Parks and Recreation, a 30-year veteran of trail construction and maintenance, and Beth Critton, an attorney who sits of the Board of Directors for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I must provide the caveat that the following synopsis does not offer a comprehensive account of this event. Readers who wish to learn more should consult our trails resources page which should be up and running very soon.
Bruce Donald’s overview of the various benefits of greenways set the tone for the morning’s proceedings. Some of what he discussed, such as economic impact and preservation and amenity value, were examined at length in the recent literature review drafted by the UConn Extension. Important topics not covered by the review but explored in detail by Mr. Donald included the role of greenways in the transportation network and in pollution and noise abatement. As Mr. Donald reported, one important new development is that biking and pedestrian activity are now considered viable transportation alternatives by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and bike/ped projects are eligible for funding as such. A balanced transportation system is now seen as one in which biking and walking play a significant role. This is reflected in such programs as Safe Routes to School and Complete Streets. The pollution and noise abatement properties of greenways are directly related to their role in the transportation system, as every trip taken by bike or on foot equates to one less trip by a motor vehicle.
Clare Cain, like Mr. Donald, emphasized the importance of trail connectivity as she discussed how the state Blue-Blazed Trail System has evolved since its inception in the 1920s. While suburban development has severed existing trails and makes it difficult to connect others, the end goal of the CFPA is an interconnected statewide network of hiking trails. Ms. Cain talked at length about the volunteer cadre that is the backbone of the CFPA, a sentiment that was later echoed by Bruce Dinnie of Vernon Parks and Recreation. Ms. Cain discussed important new technological developments that have changed the way CFPA works. All new trailhead kiosks feature a QR code, enabling smartphone users to download trail maps, access the CFPA website, and report trail conditions to the CFPA. These user-generated trail condition reports can then be used to direct trail maintenance activities. The trailhead kiosks serve as the CFPA’s public interface as well as a partial trail user counting system. The CFPA’s mapping database has also been overhauled. Much of this data is publicly accessible through Google-based interactive maps. These maps indicate trail locations and length and parking information such as location, type of parking facility and number of parking spaces. These maps also alert users to trail closures and restrictions and provide a more up-to-date accounting of the trail system than the CFPA’s traditional guidebooks, the latest edition of which came out in 2006.
Laurie Giannotti gave a specific presentation about constructing trails on DEEP property, but she also discussed the benefits that being recognized by the Connecticut Greenways Council can confer upon a designated trail. These benefits include official greenway signage at all trailheads and road crossings, a higher profile for grant requests, and inclusion in the Connecticut Plan of Conservation and Development. Most importantly, Ms. Giannotti stressed that providing ease of access is perhaps the best marketing strategy for a trail or greenway.
Bruce Dinnie discussed his lengthy experience in trail development and maintenance as Director of Parks and Recreation in Vernon, a community with three designated greenways, numerous town-owned hiking trails and a portion of the CFPA Shenipsit Trail. Mr. Dinnie praised his greenway volunteers and talked about the role of sponsorship in trail maintenance. He also discussed some of the technical aspects of trail construction and maintenance. Mr. Dinnie veered into environmental psychology topics when he mentioned how removing trees to improve visibility along trails led female trail users to feel safer, how signs should be welcoming and not a list of do-not proscriptions, and how a mural project led to a decrease in graffiti at an underpass tunnel on the Vernon trail system.
Beth Critton’s presentation centered on the potential risks for trail users and the liabilities assumed by trail owners and organizations. After listing, in an often-humorous fashion, most of risks trail users could face, she discussed the differences in liability between non-profit and for-profit trails organizations and mentioned several key court cases and the Connecticut General Statutes with relevance to trail construction and maintenance.
I was not able to stay for the following roundtable discussion.