Pocahontas State Park just outside Richmond, Virginia, has long been a mountain biking destination. But that attraction ramped up after May 2014, when trail builders won a $33,000 grant from Bell Helmets and the International Mountain Biking Association. To date, PSP has added 22 more miles of networked trails, for a total of about 44 miles of singletrack.
Being an avid mountain biker, I was curious about the effect of these new trails. I knew anecdotally that more of my friends were riding at PSP on the weekends, but was overall park visitorship rising? And where were visitors coming from?
It only took me a few hours in the StreetLight InSight ® software platform to find out, with the help of fellow cyclist and StreetLight support engineer Jon Wergin. Our results surprised me.
Virginia’s Most Popular Mountain Biking Park
First, I wanted to know where PSP currently ranks among Virginia’s state parks for cyclists. We ran a Zone Activity analysis in StreetLight InSight ranking 36 state parks, selecting bicycling traffic to analyze (versus vehicles or pedestrians).
PSP was the park with the second highest amount of cycling trips for the four months of bike data that we measured. First State Landing park topped the list, with ⅓ more bike trips.
Because First State Landing’s “bike trail” is a flat, sandy road, I feel confident in labeling PSP as Virginia’s top mountain biking destination. I was pleased to see that one of my favorite places to ride is a notable cycling attraction, but I wanted to know more.
Measuring the Impact of New Trails
Next, I explored how many visitors were going to PSP, and whether or not that had changed since the new trails opened. PSP finished the new 22-mile trail system in the fall of 2018. I tried identifying visitorship by analyzing personal travel for the six months before and after those trails opened.
In StreetLight InSight Jon created a zone just for PSP itself. He removed from the analysis two busy roads that cut through the park. Then he calibrated the index to known traffic on a nearby highway.
At first the results didn’t make sense. For March through August on the average weekend day, PSP had 4,433 visitors, but only 2,784 during the six months after the new trails opened.
I was confused, then I realized the new trails opened right before winter, when many Virginia mountain bikers choose not to ride, and many vehicle drivers don’t visit the park. Also, I remembered that Virginia had record-breaking rain levels during spring, and PSP closes muddy trails to prevent damage. That could explain the higher vehicle visitors during a lovely warm fall (PSP also has a public pool), and low numbers during a cold winter and very wet spring.
How Visitorship Has Increased
The issues with month-to-month comparisons pointed me towards analyzing year-over-year data, so that I could more evenly weight seasonal factors. I analyzed vehicle traffic for August 2017 and August 2018. That’s when I could see that PSP visitorship has taken off dramatically.
On the average weekday, PSP welcomed 2,595 visitors in 2017, and grew to 3,775 in 2018. On the average weekend day it was 4,266 in 2017, but 6,040 in 2018. That’s a 30% or better increase overall.
To learn more about who the visitors are, I ran a Zone Activity analysis for the average day in 2018 including “visitor attributes.” I was surprised to see that families are in the minority. Given the public pool, campsite, boating activities, and hiking trails, I expected PSP to be a family destination. It definitely is, but even more visitors come from households without children.
I analyzed where these visitors are coming from by applying the Home and Work Locations filter. The HWL metrics build composite visitor profiles based on LBS data, and infer likely home location zones for those composite profiles.
I found a marked change over time. For the year of 2016, PSP pulled mostly regional visitors on an average day, concentrated in Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland. Another chunk of visitors came from further south on the eastern seaboard, with a few outliers from Texas and California.
StreetLight doesn’t (yet) provide metrics directly comparing bicycle to vehicle traffic, but I tried a little workaround just because I was curious. I pulled the average-day bicycle traffic at PSP for four months in 2017 and 2018. When I compared those numbers to the calibrated personal trips during the same time period, bicycle trips were 11% of the total park traffic. Again, this isn’t a statistically valid finding for Virginia mountain biking numbers, it was just me playing around in the platform for directional, not definitive, data.
When to Visit Pocahontas State Park
When I ride my mountain bike at PSP on the weekends, I’m usually trying to avoid peak times. So my final analysis of 2018 data helped me identify the best times to visit. I was happy to see that my preferred early morning riding time is a non-peak period on weekends. Not only am I avoiding the crowds, but I’m helping spread out visitorship to non-peak times, and leveling out this Virginia park’s demand curve.
I live in downtown Richmond, a block away from about 20 miles of excellent single track. Before PSP added the new trails, I rode at home because I didn’t want to load my bike onto the bike rack and drive 30 minutes each way to PSP.
Now, I drive out there to ride almost every weekend — the new trails are that good. And clearly I’m not alone! StreetLight’s analysis confirmed my gut feel: Virginia’s Pocahontas State Park has indeed become a world-class mountain biking destination.