Perhaps one of the most surprising things about recent COVID-19 “Stay at Home” and “Shelter in Place” orders has been a significant increase in park visitation.
Park and recreation professionals are seeking answers to key questions as they move into a response and prevention mode due to increasing cases of COVID-19. Real time visitation data such as what is provided by See Insights’ car and pedestrian counters is crucial to making correct and timely decisions.
According to Fast Company, many states saw a decline in park activity (numbers were down 47% in New York, 27% in Texas, and 38% in Nevada), but others saw a rise in park use: North Dakota park activity was up 73%, Utah saw a rise of 26%, and park activity in South Dakota and Ohio more than doubled, increasing by 126% and 117%, respectively. See Insights monitors parks across North Carolina and in California and visitation growth of 100% or more for weekdays was quite common in the early days of the pandemic. We also saw significant increases in park staff logging into their attendance portals and requesting increased report generation frequency. Early responses to this data included increased communications about social distancing through signs, social media and official statements.
Importantly, park staff and operations have also been affected. Many Parks are short-staffed by mandatory shutdowns, transitions to teleworking schedules and child / dependent care responsibilities putting pressure on park and recreation facilities. Increased visitation compounds the important work of park staff around safety, sanitation, resource protection and law enforcement.
These factors (increased visitation / staffing challenges) have put parks in a tough spot. On the one hand, letting people explore our parks has both psychological and physical benefits during this stressful time. On the other, crowded parks, single track trails and short staff dictated something had to be done. For example, NC State Parks saw such an increase in visitation that they made the tough choice to close most parks. See Insights’ visitation data now helps them measure compliance. On the other hand, Wake County Parks (one of the largest local park systems in the state) have stayed open but use the data to look for over-crowding and to adjust park hours to reduce pressure on staffing. In both cases, accurate and timely data was key.
We hope that everyone stays safe and healthy during this crisis. We are happy to play a small but important role in smart and safe park operations. This is one of the key drivers for our company – better data enables better decisions.