When you're out hiking in the breathtaking Sedona area, remember to wear a smile, because you might just find yourself caught on the U.S. Forest Service's version of candid camera — the trail counter.
The U.S. Forest Service began installing these trail counters on non-motorized trails in and around Sedona back in February 2014. Although the Bell Trail and Devil's Bridge counters are currently non-operational, there are still eleven trails equipped with these devices. Most of these counters are infrared, while one uses magnets to count passing bicycles.
Maintenance for these counters is a breeze, requiring nothing more than changing the batteries and desiccant packs as needed, typically twice a year. The collected data is regularly downloaded by dedicated volunteers and uploaded to a data management website.
The Forest Service prefers to keep the exact locations of these counters under wraps to prevent theft or vandalism. However, they're not hidden; you can spot them in locked metal containers securely fastened to wooden posts or trees.
The data collected by these counters not only reveals changes in trail usage patterns since the pre-COVID-19 era but also highlights that overall trail use reached its peak in 2021 and has been gradually declining since.
The total number of hikers counted on surveyed trails each year:
2023 (through July): 420,294
Please note that these counts may overstate the actual number of trail users, as the counters cannot distinguish between hikers heading out and those returning, potentially passing a sensor twice on one-way trails.
In 2021, trail usage peaked at 27% above 2019 levels. However, based on estimated usage for 2023, it has now declined to 15% above 2019 levels. The cumulative number of trail users for the first seven months of 2023 was 9% below the 2022 levels and 21% below the 2021 levels. To you!
Craving more information about specific trails? Check out the statistics here. And happy trails to you!