Research Highlight: Park Use Surveys

Written by Anne Reis
    Thursday, 19 December 2013
Biking on the Hank Aaron State Trail Biking on the Hank Aaron State Trail

Did you know that the Urban Ecology Center collects data throughout our three parks to help us understand the impact of our work on making parks safe, accessible and ecologically vibrant for people living in the community? In the fall of 2012, a UW-Milwaukee undergraduate research intern devised a park use survey protocol to help estimate attendance and assess the types of activities people engage in when they visit the parks near our branches. Our park use surveys compare park use from branch to branch, season to season, and year to year. Data is collected on a seasonal basis, for every day of the week during different times of the day.

Data is collected for 10 minutes at four predetermined assessment locations at each park. The survey routes vary in length due to the topography of the parks we manage, and the observation locations are placed in areas where the Center has a direct influence. See the maps below for our survey routes and assessment locations.


From this park use survey, we found some interesting results! For example, the activities people engage in are different at each park. In Three Bridges Park and Riverside Park, the predominant use of the park is biking (mostly commuters on the Oak Leaf and Hank Aaron State Trail), whereas walking is the most common activity in Washington Park. Another interesting thing we discovered from the summer park use survey is that there is more diversity in activities at Washington Park (as demonstrated in the charts below). Community members at Washington Park engage in playing, fishing, and picnic-ing more so than at the other parks.  (Click on the image to make it larger to view!)

all three branches

We are still in the process of crunching numbers for summer time park attendance. Our estimates will be based on weather, time of day, and day of the week.

Want to get involved with this project?

We could use your help in collecting this important data! There are 21 surveys that need to be completed each season (we create a random sample of survey periods based on the day of week and time of day). We would love to create a core group of park use survey volunteers for each Urban Ecology Center branch. If this sounds like something you are interested in, but have never been trained, please contact Anne Reis at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. This is a great way to get outside, take a hike, and conduct important research for the Urban Ecology Center!

Photo Credit: Jeff McAvoy
Anne Reis

Anne Reis

Anne has conducted research on a variety of topics including cranberries, potatoes, wetlands, lichens, tamaracks, and most recently bats. She has a B.S. and M.S. in Horticulture from UW-Madison and a M.S. in Biological Sciences and a GIS Certificate from UW-Milwaukee. Anne is the GIS Specialist at the Center and enjoys reading, mapping, gardening, and spending time outside with her husband and daughter in the Riverwest neighborhood.

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