We checked the trail counters during the first part of the COVID-19 Stay-at-Home order, and they've been working overtime.
There are tiny beige boxes at the trailheads and key intersections throughout the Backcountry Wilderness Area. They are trail use counters and they go up a tick each time a person wanders past. We compile data from our trail use counters all year long, but with an anticipated jump in people using the trails during the COVID-19 outbreak, we wanted a peek at the statistics.
Here's the trail use counter data from March 1 through April 6 for last year (2019) and this year (2020):
Here is a Highlands Point trail map for reference:
During these five weeks in 2019, the Backcountry Wilderness Area trails saw a total of 2,802 uses—these counters do not count unique visitors—between the Highlands Point (2,410 uses) and Wildcat Mountain (392 uses) trail systems.
In 2020, these same trails saw 17,380 uses ... a 520 percent increase! In just 37 days, the Highlands Point trails had 16,073 uses ... a 566 percent jump over last year.
Whether you are a regular trail user or you just discovered these 25-miles of close-to-home trails, there is no doubt that it seems busy out there. That's because ... it is. But, there are two easy ways you can improve the outdoor experience for yourself and others in the community.
Try visiting in off-peak hours. It's no surprise that the busiest time on the trails is between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. with peak hours between noon and 5 p.m. Now that you know when there is going to be a socially-distanced caravan up the trail to Highlands Point, try to hit the trails a little earlier. You don't have to plan a 6 a.m. start, but choosing to recreate when everyone else is either sleeping in or eating breakfast, will help alleviate the crowds. Another way to help is to visit the trails once or twice a week instead of every single day.
Be a good human. We know the trails are busy. Independent from the reason that there are more people from our community visiting the Backcountry Wilderness Area trails, we are happy people are getting outside. We love the fact that families are taking walks, kids are learning how to ride their bikes, and our community is getting a look at the amazing habitat conservation property in their backyard. Trail users need to follow the most up-to-date COVID-19 guidelines given out by the state during this time. With the increase in users, it is also a must that people follow trail guidelines (including the current social distancing rules), park in marked parking spots (or better yet, ride/walk to the trailhead), and treat the property with respect including staying on marked trails, packing out trash, and following general Leave No Trace principles.
That being said, we also need people to be patient with one another, patient with the change in crowd traffic, and patient as new trail users are educated in trail etiquette. We are so appreciative of the leaders in our community who follow our trail guidelines each and every time they head out to hike, horseback ride, or to pedal their bike—whether we're in the middle of a pandemic or it's a regular busy Saturday. New trail users are watching, and hopefully emulating, you. Kindness will go a long way as we accept the busyness on the trails right now. If we're lucky, we might see a new wave of people who embrace an outdoor lifestyle and a passion for the conservation of wild places like the Backcountry Wilderness Area. That's our hope.
Questions? Head to our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/hrcabackcountry and feel free to send messages.
For direct emails:
AnnaKate.Hein@hrcaonline.org: Program Supervisor
Gus.Brunger@hrcaonline.org: Property Coordinator
Lindsey.McKissick@hrcaonline.org: Outreach & 501c3 Coordinator
Jessica.Fangman@hrcaonline.org: Education Coordinator