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Individual Highlight

Supplementing Recreation Monitoring with Social Media Data

Photo of Hikers along the Sauk River in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington.Hikers along the Sauk River in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington.Snapshot : Social media data can augment existing recreation monitoring programs to provide finer resolution estimates of recreation use. USDA Forest Service researchers have further refined this new technique, comparing results to traditional use monitoring, and testing it in areas managed by the USDA Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior, and in both urban and rural locations.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Blahna, DaleWhite, Eric M.
Research Station : Pacific Northwest Research Station (PNW)
Year : 2019
Highlight ID : 1589


Recreation is the most popular use of national forests. Nearly 900 million visits to federally managed lands in the United States support more than 800,000 jobs and contribute $49 billion in economic activity annually, USDA Forest Service economists have found. Monitoring recreation use across vast areas is challenging but necessary so that resources can be strategically allocated to keep high-quality experiences available to visitors and minimize visitor impact on natural resources. Eric White and Dale Blahna, research social scientists with the USDA Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station and their colleagues successfully used social media data to measure recreational use in dispersed areas. They developed a method using geotagged images shared on social medial platforms and trip reports shared on hiking forums. They tested its accuracy in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, which is an hour drive from the Seattle metro, and the Santa Fe National Forest and other federal public lands in rural northern New Mexico. They found high correlation between the number of hikers counted at specific trailheads by using infrared sensors, time lapse cameras, and manual on-site count and counts gleaned from geotagged images and online trip reports. The convenient, cost-efficient, and timely nature of collecting and analyzing user-generated data could allow land managers to monitor use in near real-time and at sites and scales never typically monitored. This would contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of recreational use patterns and values. The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is using this research to explore recreation patterns on the trails and developed sites in the popular canyon of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • U.S. National Park Service
  • University of Washington