What sort of outdoor recreation data can you collect without a research budget?

I’m doing a small study at Fire Mountain Trails (FMT) in Cherokee, NC: 

The Fire Mountain Trails are Cherokee’s source for big adventure—a multiuse trail system that’s made to mountain bike, hike, or run. The network of trails is more than 11 miles total, so there’s plenty of room for everyone to recreate safely, responsibly…and flowy?

That’s right—if you like your trails with a nice flow of features, with fun berms and quick hits of elevation that are manageable and fun, Fire Mountain is made for you. You’ll find tables, rock gardens, and blinds for those who know, along with single-track and wider sections, spots that are smooth and fast, and trails that invite the more technically accomplished with options for those less so. The trailhead is located at 160 Indian Village Road, about 100 yards from the Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee and shares a parking lot. The trails interlace through the nearby Great Smoky Mountains, so you already know the views and terrain will take your breath away, even if your recreation of choice doesn’t!

The data collection is going to cost less than $250 out of pocket. Right before Memorial Day weekend we put up a sign with a QR code that takes you the online survey. As of the July 4 week we have a disappointing n=23 responses. We have n=96 responses from outreach on social media. The folks at FMT are interested in any economic impacts generated by the trails. I’m interested in collecting data for students and wondering how the two survey modes differ. Real quick, here is the t-test on distance traveled.

Sample 1 is from the QR code and sample 2 is social media. Social media seems to be missing people who travel farther to get there. I’ll be posting the link on the WNC mountain bike trails facebook next week so, in addition to more responses from the QR code, there should be more responses by the end of summer. 

A couple of years ago I did a similar study at Beech Mountain trails but Beech Mountain spent about $600 to pay App State students to hang out and pass out rack cards with the QR code. That generated about n=400 responses. I’m concluding that a passive QR code is no substitute for college students pleading with potential respondents at the trailhead. 

Here is a view from my hike on one of the trails:

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