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Trail Counting Program

It is easy to speculate about how many people are at a trailhead on a given day, but without accurate numbers, it is difficult to advocate for this constituent of winter recreationists. As the traffic in the mountains increases, our competition with ski resorts and other commercial industries for the Central Wasatch backcountry resource grows. WBA represents a ghost population – we all know we are out there, but without solid numbers, we can be dismissed and disregarded. Having reliable user numbers has already proven essential in dealing with policy makers, and will continue to be vital if our issues are to be taken seriously.

In 2014, WBA launched our Trail Counting Program (TCP). The TCP is critical to our mission in several ways. First and foremost, it is the most accurate picture available of the number of people who use the Central Wasatch winter backcountry. Second, the data will be shared freely with environmental organizations, agencies, policy makers and other interested groups and organizations. Third, it is information that we will use to demonstrate the urgency of implementing public education to reduce the impacts of users on a finite and vulnerable landscape.

Over the past three years, the TCP has grown to include nine sites in Big Cottonwood, Little Cottonwood, and Mill Creek canyons. In 2016, WBA was granted a ten-year Special Use permit by the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest to conduct our counting project between December 1st and May 1st. A committee of volunteers runs the TCP, each of whom contributes various forms of expertise to the program. The nine sites monitored include the most heavily used trailheads in the three canyons. Due to limitations on resources, less frequently used trailheads are excluded. Though not comprehensive, our trailhead counting project has created the first verifiable picture of winter backcountry use in the Central Wasatch.

The program continues to evolve with the input of volunteers and field experience. From its inception, the project has relied on off-the-shelf motion-activated “game“ cameras. These are widely available and relatively inexpensive. Each time an individual or group enters the camera’s field, it takes at least one date and time stamped image. Starting with the 2017-2018 season, WBA will incorporate three infrared TRAFx trail counters as these provide a more accurate, efficient method for counting. This will cut down on volunteer time that is required to count trail users, making results available much faster. It is WBA’s goal to get this information in as close to “real-time” as possible and then to post the results here for all to view. In the seasons ahead, we hope to transition all of our current sites to infrared and expand the number of sites to increase the breadth and completeness of our count.

Trail Counting Program Volunteers

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