Research on Open Space Lands

The Boulder County Parks and Open Space Department offers grants for research on county open space lands each year. All proposals are reviewed by a team of resource specialists, and awarded research projects are monitored during their activities on open space. The following is a summary of a 2013 study conducted by Corona Insights in Denver.

Amenity Preferences of Older Adults

Outdoor recreation amenities such as picnic shelters, restrooms, and trails are integral to open space design, and they facilitate visitors’ recreation experiences. For various reasons, older adults may hold opinions towards outdoor recreation amenities that differ from the rest of the population. Older adults may also perceive barriers that inhibit them from accessing open space. Boulder County Parks and Open Space (BCPOS) granted Corona Insights, a Denver-based market research and strategic consulting firm, with funding and resources necessary to research older adults’ preferences for outdoor amenities and their perceived barriers to recreating on open space. The following are key findings of the study:

  • Most seniors use open space at least occasionally.
  • Over 70 percent of Boulder County seniors have visited an open space area during the past year.
  • Age appears to be correlated to the frequency of visitation to open space.
  • Younger-seniors (age 65 to 74) were twice as likely to have visited open space very often as older-seniors (75 or older); conversely, a smaller proportion of younger-seniors never visited open space.
  • Enjoyment of recreating on open space is very high.
  • Ninety-eight percent of seniors who visited an open space in the last year reported that their most recent visit to open space was either very or somewhat enjoyable.
  • Both younger and older seniors equally indicated that their most recent trip was enjoyable.
  • Activities change with age.
  • While hiking and walking are by far the most common activities among seniors in open space regardless of age, other activity patterns change with age.
  • Younger-seniors are more likely to participate in biking, running, photography, and dog walking while older-seniors are more likely to watch wildlife and picnic.
  • Seniors mentioned that amenities such as bathrooms, better parking, picnic tables, signs, and grills would improve their next visit.
  • Amenities was suggested as a potential improvement by 15 percent of respondents, which is a higher proportion than other suggested improvements, but much lower than the 50 percent of respondents who could not suggest any action that would make their next open space visit more enjoyable.

The point above notes that this may be an issue more for other land managers than for Boulder County. Most seniors prefer trails made of dirt, trails that are wide enough for two people to travel side-by-side, and trails that are between one and three miles long. Trails made of crushed rock, trails wide enough for three people to travel side-by-side, and trails longer than three miles were the second most preferred trail features.

Seniors hold strong opinions about trail management regarding bicycles. Not allowing bicycles on trails would increase the enjoyment of a majority of seniors. Decreasing biker speed would increase trail enjoyment more than ordering bikers to travel in one direction, and decreasing biker speed produces almost as much benefit as not allowing bicycles at all.

Bicycle management would increase the enjoyment of females more than males. Bicycle policy and management would increase the trail enjoyment of more older-seniors than younger-seniors. The difference between the two age groups is greatest in regards to not allowing bicycles and is narrowest regarding bikers traveling at slower speeds.

Prohibiting dogs on trails is more likely to decrease trail enjoyment than increase enjoyment for seniors. Opinions about not allowing dogs on trails differ by age and gender. Younger-seniors and males are more likely to say not allowing dogs would decrease their enjoyment.

Call for 2014 Studies

The department is currently accepting proposals for 2014 funding. Two categories will be awarded — grants up to $5,000 and grants up to $10,000. The deadline for proposals is Monday, January 20, 2014. Department staff have identified priority needs for research including these three topics:

  • Post-flood inventory of Preble’s meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius preblei) in Boulder County watersheds
  • Post-flood inventory of fish species in the St. Vrain River and Lefthand Creek watersheds
  • Post-flood vegetation recovery in affected county open space properties, primarily Boulder Creek, Lefthand Creek and St. Vrain River stream corridors

Other research proposals will be accepted. Visit Open Space Research for a full listing of research topics and proposal guidelines.