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“Data” is a popular buzzword. You hear about data on the cloud, Big Data, and data breaches on the news and commercials. As a scientist I’m thrilled that there is a growing interest in using data to make better decisions. Individuals are notoriously bad about making predictions because we have biases and poor memories. The great thing about data is that it can show new insights and challenge preconceived beliefs.
So what data can we gather from an almost 200 year old trail? Actually a lot of data and that’s what GIS Analyst and Cartographer Pat Stephens and I are working on as part of a William Penn Foundation grant about trail sustainability. One type of data that I’m very interested in is trail user visits. We have trail counters out at several locations along the D&L Trail that record a count of the number of people that pass it and the time. This allows us to see patterns of activity and record total users. This data is helpful for reporting how popular our trail is, economic analysis, maintenance, event planning and many other applications.
Remember how I said people are bad at making predictions? I tested this out on 15 members of the D&L staff and asked them what was the most popular and least popular day of the week on the trail. Out of 30 guesses, only five were correct (that’s 16.7%)! Not a single person correctly guessed the least popular day. This is why data can be so powerful. It can help you better understand things that you thought you knew.
This year we will begin to implement a new long term management plan for counting trail users. This will involve installing new counters along the trail including newer models that will provide data that are even more detailed. Be on the lookout for these as you visit the trail. We are excited to use data to help us better manage the D&L Trail and to share our insights with others.