Researching the Economic Impact of Rail Trails During the Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have taken advantage of spending time outside of the office and have looked towards the outdoors to find ways to fill their time during the pandemic.  Utilizing outdoor trails is one safe and socially distanced way that people have found to do this.  Cooperative Extension has been collecting research for an economic impact study of the rail trails in New Hampshire and this year, the pandemic has added an additional level of difficulty to data collection and has also presented an opportunity for more research. 

My name is Shea Pare and I am an undergraduate senior at the University of New Hampshire.  I am studying community and environmental planning with a minor in environmental conservation and sustainability.  This semester I am working with my mentor, Shannon Rogers, with Cooperative Extension to collect data on rail trail use in New Hampshire.  I have been visiting different trails throughout the state and surveying users about their trail use and spending during their visit. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to change our surveying strategies in order to keep ourselves and greater community safe.  Instead of having participants fill out a paper survey, we are encouraging them to fill out an online survey.  We have a QR code posted on a sandwich board as well as on postcards so people can access the survey on their own time from a safe distance.  While we are encouraging participants to fill out the survey digitally, we have paper surveys and sanitized clipboards available for those who do not have access to a phone or would prefer a paper survey.

Although the pandemic has created changes in surveying techniques, it has also allowed us to gather information on how COVID has impacted people’s behaviors.  We have added questions to the survey about how the pandemic has impacted rail trail use.  This could allow us to analyze changes in trail usage, and spending, and the economic impact on local communities.

I am looking forward to continuing my work with Cooperative Extension for the remainder of the semester and into the summer.  I have learned various techniques for data collection, gathered knowledge from participants, and learned about how valuable these trails are to the communities they belong to.  I am thrilled to have this opportunity studying the economic impact of New Hampshire’s rail trails.