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People-Powered Science Opportunities: Two Trailhead Parking Studies

Posted by Keiko Betcher at Aug 24, 2017 11:42 AM |

Help collect data for scientific research on how hikers use Washington's trails on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

If you’re looking for more ways to support our public lands and help land managers understand and plan for how hikers are using trails, there’s an easy way to get involved.

With just 5 minutes at a trailhead and a mobile phone, you can help collect key data for a study by the University of Washington and U.S. Forest Service on the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.

IMG_1503.JPGThe University of Washington and Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest are researching recreational use. Photo by dannyfratella. 

The University of Washington, in collaboration with the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, is working on a social media and recreation study. With  collection methods that include geo-located photos posted on public platforms like Instagram or Flickr, analyzing trip reports on WTA and other hiking sites, and counting cars parked at trailheads, this study aims to map out visitor usage on the forest. With this information, researchers can measure recreational activity in national forests—data that has been difficult to collect, and can help land managers accurately plan for future use, such as designing new trails.

There are several roles hikers play in this study.

  • The first is to continue posting trip reports to the WTA website after you’ve completed a hike.
  • Another is an opportunity to directly collect data for the scientists' research.

For this study in particular, research scientists from the University of Washington are hoping to collaborate with recreationalists, including hikers, just like you.


Collecting data for this project is simple. All you have to do is count the number of cars parked at the trailhead you’re at and text the number to the UW research team.

Before heading out onto the trail, wander over to the trailhead information board and find a sign that looks like this:

lake serene sign.JPGThis sign is currently posted at the Lake Serene trailhead. Similar signs will be posted at additional trailheads throughout the national forest in the coming weeks. Photo courtesy of Emmi Lia, research assistant at the University of Washington. 

Note that as of now, only the Lake Serene trailhead has this sign. Other designated parking lots (listed below) will have signs posted in the coming weeks.

  • Count the number of cars in the designated trailhead parking lot.
  • Text it to the phone number listed on the flyer, and “voila”! You have officially contributed data to the scientific study.

Even if there are only a couple of cars in the parking lot, sending the information is just as valuable. You can send a text before you hike, after you’ve finished, or both, even if those two events are on separate days.

You should receive a confirmation text from the UW research team, with an opportunity to fill out an optional survey if you’d like to contribute more.  


There are a total of five trailheads that the research team is collecting data from:

For details on which parking lots to count and additional info, click here.

Lake Serene SMALL-18.jpgLake Serene, one of the five trails where the research team is collecting data. Photo by RacingSnail.

Middle Fork Snoqualmie RIVER Road

There is another opportunity to participate in people-powered science with the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Similar to the project above, volunteers are needed to help collect data about the parking occupancy on the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road, near North Bend.

If you feel like taking a scenic drive to a hike, you can collect some data while you’re at it! On the Middle Fork Road, count the number of cars parked at official trailheads, as well as the ones parked on the road in between. Data is needed from August 26 through the winter.

The goal of this study is to gain a better understanding of visitor distribution and parking constraints in the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Valley, which can help with future transportation planning.

If you are interested in volunteering for this study or want more information, contact Sarah Lange, recreation planner, at