COLUMBUS — Columbus officials hoping to expand the city's trail system plan to count the number of residents using it and track their reasons to help drum up support for the extension.
The official survey of users of the People Trails will begin soon and will include questions about where residents enter the trail, how frequently they use the system and how their trail use has impacted their health.
The Columbus Park Foundation has launched a yearlong campaign to raise $1 million for the expansion project. The Republic reported that the campaign and an additional $4 million will pay for an expansion of the trails that will include bike routes and sidewalks by 2017.
April Williams, resource development/projects director for Columbus Parks and Recreation, said accurate numbers recorded over several months will better help the department generate support for the 21 miles of blacktopped trails for walkers, runners, cyclists and others.
The survey could last about a year. The parks department will work with Indiana University faculty on the count.
Eight infrared trail counters, paid for by IU and Healthy Communities, were installed on trees recently to do one part of the count. Later, IU staffers will verify figures in person and interview trail users one-on-one and online.
IU representatives say past studies they have completed have had a big impact.
Stephen A. Wolter, executive director of IU's Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands, said the Indiana Trails Study he helped coordinate grew to "national significance." He said the 2000 report showing the positive impact of trails opened the state to more trails.
The state doubled annual spending on trails, leading Indiana to become one of the top states for percentage of trail growth since then, Wolter said.
Shayla Holtkamp, a Columbus fitness instructor, uses the trails at least three days a week to run or bike. She said she thinks the survey will increase support for the trails.
"I think people will see they've had a huge impact on biking," Holtkamp said.
Supporters say trails can increase nearby property values and boost tourism.
"We believe that our work will show people (in Columbus) how important the trails are," said Charles Chancellor, an assistant professor in IU's recreation, park, and tourism studies department.