Trail Counter Program Report + Data Tables 2022

In the summer of 2022, RCR Trail Counter Tech Connor Frithsen placed and monitored 26 counters in the Emerald Mountain, Buffalo Pass, and Core Trail areas. Of these, 20 were infrared (captures most movement) and 6 were magnetic (captures mountain bikes – or the occasional swinging trail tool). The counter program is funded by the the City of Steamboat in partnership with Routt County Riders. Counters have been placed since 2014 or so, installed on a rolling basis as trail inventory increases and our usage patterns require new or updated monitoring. Since 2014, RCR has worked closely with City of Steamboat Parks + Rec staff to hone in on best practices with these counters and managed some of the bigger challenges with counter malfunctions, occasional vandalism, and data inconsistencies. 

Instead of nitpicking exact data numbers, as you will see can be misleading when it comes to drawing overarching conclusions, we encourage you to see things in broad brushstrokes. The main takeaways we are outlining for this year are as follows:

  • On the front side of Emerald, we are noting that the overall usage number is similar to 2020 and 2021, with a slight decrease in some counter locations and a notable increase from the Stables/Ice Rink zone and on the entirety of NPR . The usage patterns appear to have shifted, with the Bluffs counter picking up less traffic, Stables and Robbie’s Cut picking up significantly more. On the descent, traffic appears to have shifted off of Molly’s, with much more returning to NPR. Note that NPR was closed for a significant portion of 2021 and re-opened (maintaining good/better conditions) for much of 2022. 
  • The Blackmer trail counter gave us issues in 2022, therefore we have left those numbers out of this report – numbers were reporting abnormally low. 
  • On the back side of Emerald, usage is slightly higher overall in ‘22 compared to ‘21, with our counters picking up less non-MTB traffic (i.e. infrared-only) than  years past – the gap between our magnetic and infrared counts has closed. Our Rotary trail counter numbers have been unreliable, and are left out of this year’s report.
  • On Buff Pass, trail usage is quite similar to 2021. There is a notable increase on Flash of Gold at the Spring Creek intersection, perhaps due to a prime leaf-peeping season, and a trending popularity of this trail overall. The usage of BTR, Grouse, and Upper Flash appears to be remaining about the same as the several years prior. Two counters experiencing difficulty are Soda Mountain and Spring Creek Downhill, with Soda counting incredibly high (left out of this report) and SCDH abnormally low (as you will see on the graph). 
  •  The Spring Creek Trailhead counted 30% less as compared to 2021.
  • The Core Trail counted an increase of about 12% from 2021. 

Notes on Data Collection

We use two types of counter out in the forest, one is an infrared sensor that picks up movement from pretty much anything in front of the sensor – this is hikers, elk, bikers, an errant tree branch that falls in front and swings lazily, etc. Our magnetic counters are meant to capture the metal of each bike that passes but will not pick up hikers, elk, and whatnot. The infrared sensors are used more broadly to capture all trail use, and magnetic counters are deployed on some bike-specific trails and to accompany an infrared if we have the stock of counters to do it concurrently on one trail. 

Data errors can occur for myriad reasons, not limited to – 

  • A dead battery that halts data collection until the counter gets a visit
  • Swinging branches, elk, and anything not human-related passing in front of a sensor repeatedly
  • People using the trail in side-by-side will typically only be picked up as 1 user by a sensor
  • Delay and spacing – we set a ‘delay’ to reset the counter after a person passes by. If two hikers or riders are following each other in very quick succession, sometimes that second person (or anyone following rapidly) will not be counted.

Outside of errors, we are limited in counter placement by the unpredictability of the seasons in Northwest CO. Sometimes it will take a while to be able to gain access on higher-elevation Buff Pass trails in the spring, and then an early October snow will halt our program as our Counter Tech makes his rounds picking up the units before winter.

Enjoy the numbers that follow, keeping in mind that the “Y” axis (vertical, left side) totals are mostly an extrapolation of estimated average daily users stretched out across an entire year, as opposed to an exact head count. This is especially true for Buffalo Pass and most singletrack usage areas which shut down during snowier months. 

Spring Creek Trailhead

Core Trail

Emerald Mountain – Back Side (BLM)

Emerald Mountain – Front Side (City of Steamboat)

Buffalo Pass