Parks usage surveys are conducted to help parks better serve communities.

The Santa Cruz Riverwalk is Santa Cruz’s longest city park, extending nearly two miles from the Highway 1 bridge over the San Lorenzo River along each side of the river to the river mouth next to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. The area, formerly known as the San Lorenzo Riverway, was redesignated as a city park and named the Santa Cruz Riverwalk in 2013. When CWC wanted to know, “how does the Santa Cruz community utilize the Santa Cruz Riverwalk?” we launched the first parks usage survey in the City of Santa Cruz. CWC researched and developed the survey, solicited input from input from survey groups like Civinomics and Applied Survey Research and worked with Alliance partners to field test the survey before officially launching the study in August 2014.

The Santa Cruz Riverwalk Usage Study establishes data on who visits the Riverwalk and how visitors use the open space and trails. Volunteers are trained to count the number of visitors to the park, document their chosen recreational activities or transportation modes and observe visitors’ demographic data. Trained volunteers visit three established locations on the San Lorenzo Riverwalk and collect data on who they see doing what at the park. Volunteers are stationed at popular Riverwalk access points: Highway 1 pedestrian bridge (Riverine Reach), Duck Pond at San Lorenzo Park (Transitional Reach) and the Trestle Bridge (Estuarine Reach). Volunteers spend 30 minutes at each location, recording Riverwalk visitors in a standard chart.

Young man skateboarding along the Santa Cruz Riverwalk
Students riding bicycle along the Santa Cruz Riverwalk

“Four years ago we moved to a condo on River Street for the view of the San Lorenzo River. We watched herons and mergansers, but also the problems the river faced. When we read about CWC, we were excited about the mission to bring the Riverwalk back into the vitality of Santa Cruz life. We needed to be a part of this effort! We joined the Riverwalk Usage Study which counts activity on the Riverwalk. Little by little, with the dedication of so many people this wonderful space is transforming… much to our delight!

— Konnie and Bob Warburton

Here are some observations from the ongoing Riverwalk Usage Study. As of July 2016:

  • Volunteers counted a total of 14,892 people and an average of 81 people were observed per 30 minute survey.
  • The most popular observed activities on the Riverwalk are walking (51%) and biking (32%).
  • You are most likely to see a young adult in their 20s or 30s visiting the Riverwalk.
  • Santa Cruz Riverwalk senior usage is now consistent with the national average of seniors observed in park usership studies.
  • The number of people more greatly varied season by season in the second year of the study and so did the rain. 1 survey was conducted in the rain in 2014-15 while 12 surveys were conducted in the rain in 2015-16!

In the long-term the Alliance will use this study to measure changes in parks usage over time. In the short-term, we’re using this data to improve infrastructure along the park to better meet community needs and to bring events to the park that attract groups that we don’t currently see. For instance, the Coastal Watershed Council launched the Paws in the Park series in 2015 to attract more dog walkers to the park. This data has also been incorporated into the City of Santa Cruz’s Parks Master Plan as it represents the only parks usage data of its kind in the city.