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National Parks can use social media to aid in park surveys

Zion National Park
Zion National Park

National Park surveys are designed to help park managers decide where to further develop a park, said former postdoctoral researcher in the Institute of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism at Utah State Emily Wilkins.

“So if everyone really liked, for instance, being around water, we might want to invest in new trails, near rivers or going up to lakes,” Wilkins said. “Also thinking more long term, it could also tell park planners and park managers where they should potentially invest into buying new parklands.”

These surveys are usually accomplished by employees asking park visitors survey questions before they leave, but Wilkins said technology offers a bigger pool of people to draw from.

“So much has changed with social media and people posting on social media, that that's just a whole new data set that provides a wealth of information about park visitors,” Wilkins said.

This method involves using an algorithm that labels photos and organizes them so parks can see what types of pictures people are posting. Wilkins said it can be much faster and cheaper than the traditional method, and nowadays, looking online can also be safer.

“One benefit in a pandemic is if it's dangerous to actually go in person and talk to other people, you can still get information about people without having to put visitors at risk of any kind of illness,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins said this social media method is not perfect.

“There's many different ways that this could be used in the future,” Wilkins said. “I think we just need a little bit more research and keep having the algorithm advanced a little bit.”

For now Wilkins recommended parks use both the traditional and social media methods to conduct park surveys.