Measuring COVID-19’s Impact on PA Trail Use

photo: Bikes in Ulsan CC BY-SA 2.0
Frank Maguire, Trails Program Director

If you are like me, you try to get outside as much as possible to enjoy trails near and far. If you are also like me, during the spreading pandemic and the ensuing closures and stay-at-home orders, you escaped to the outdoors for sanity and a sense of normalcy. I’m sure you also noticed (like me), that you weren’t the only one with a similar thought.

When people started to flood the trails around Pennsylvania (and beyond) in early March, PEC staff had a conversation about what all of the people on trails might mean. As PEC works to support more and better trails throughout the Commonwealth, this moment seemed to hold the promise of a new awareness of the power of trails as well as further highlight the ongoing concerns around limited access, delayed maintenance and confusion around trail etiquette.

Across Pennsylvania, in both rural and urban areas, people got outside in unprecedented numbers.


Did you take advantage of trails during the lockdown? As you probably noticed, you weren’t alone.


Download The COVID-19 Pandemic’s Impact on Pennsylvania’s Non-Motorized Trails


To better document and understand this moment of increased trail usage, PEC commissioned Amy Camp of Cycle Forward to undertake a report capturing Covid 19’s impact on trails.

The report consists of three sources of information.

  • We broadly surveyed trail managers across the state, ultimately getting responses from 74 trail managers, asking them how they viewed the uses and what direct impacts they were seeing. We also asked those managers if they had any means to collect trail use data in place and if they’d be willing to share.
  • We took the data from those who responded ‘yes’ and added it to the counter data we were able to collect from DCNR, The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Authority and the Poconos Forest and Waters Conservation Landscape, ultimately collecting trail use counts from some 40 sites. Ultimately, we were able to compare numbers across the years 2018, 2019 and 2020 from some 16 counters, giving us a remarkable snapshot of the huge spike in trail use in March.
  • We also collected media reports about the impact, documenting the ways in which so many Pennsylvanians sought solace and exercise in the trails of our state.

The picture that emerged from the report is one that helps support the case for more trails, closer to home. Across PA, in both rural and urban areas, people got outside in unprecedented numbers. The trail use increase recorded in March effectively started the trail season a full month earlier than usual. Here’s to keep welcoming all those people back year after year into the future.