In the summer of 2023, RCR Trail Counter Technician Connor Frithsen placed and monitored 25 counters in the Emerald Mountain, Buffalo Pass, Spring Creek and Core Trail areas. Of these, 19 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 frontside of Emerald Mountain (City of Steamboat), we are noting that the overall usage number was similar to 2021 and 2022, with notable decreases in the Stables area and lower NPR and an increase on Molly’s. It is important to note that both counters at Robbie’s Cut and Bluffs at Ice Rink were compromised mid-season; fortunately, we were able to use the data from two additional counters in the Stables area as a substitute for the lost counters. Stables area shows a slight decrease from 2022, but still trending upward from previous years. On the descent, traffic appears to have shifted from lower NPR, with much more traffic returning to Molly’s. Note that NPR was closed for a significant portion of 2021 and re-opened (maintaining good/better conditions) for much of 2022, which reflects the increased popularity. NPR needed little trail maintenance in 2023 and the City placed more emphasis on maintaining Molly’s. Molly’s increase in popularity could be attributed to an egress route to the Fairview neighborhood, while continuing to be a staple of local area dog-walkers going in both directions.
- Winter 2022-2023 was the first winter with continued use of the Blackmere trail counter; however, 2022 counts were omitted in last year’s report due to unreasonably low numbers, so this will be something we take into consideration for future analyses. Summer numbers in 2023 were on par with 2021 usage (about 300 visits/day from April-November). This number strikes us as a bit low for the popularity of this trail, which could be attributed to the strength of the counter’s effective distance. These counters are manufactured mostly for singletrack and with the wide berth of Blackmere trail, there is a possibility that only movements closer to the counter and being picked up.
- On the backside of Emerald Mountain (BLM), usage was similar overall in 2023 compared to 2022, with our counters picking up more non-MTB traffic (i.e. infrared-only) than 2022 and a decrease in MTB traffic (magnetic counter) on Beall Trail. Usage on Rotary Trail has decreased from 2022, although this counter has been a troublemaker in the past and has often been left out of the report.
- On Buffalo Pass (USFS), trail usage was quite similar to 2022. There was a slight decrease on Lower Flash Of Gold. The usage of BTR, Grouse, Upper Flash and Panorama appears to remain about the same as the years prior. Our trail technician removed a mud wasp’s nest from the camera of Spring Creek Downhill (SCDH), but this caused us to lose most counts from July. Due to an overcounting issue in 2022, Soda Trailhead is left out of this report, but the 2023 trend is back on par with 2020 and 2021.
- The Spring Creek Trailhead (City of Steamboat) summer (April-November) counted 20% more than the same dates in 2021.
- The Core Trail (City of Steamboat) counted a small decrease of about 2% from 2022, but the last extrapolation of usage numbers was taken on November 5th, 2023.
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 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
Emerald Mountain – Back Side (BLM)
Emerald Mountain – Front Side (City of Steamboat)