In the spring and early summer of 2020, the Alliance conducted a survey on the outdoor recreation activities of Shenandoah Valley residents during the widespread closure of public places due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
What we heard:
- Many of you stayed in the Shenandoah Valley to enjoy the region’s world-class outdoor recreation sites.
- It was usual to encounter overcrowded or closed sites.
- More accessible outdoor recreation opportunities were desired.
- Survey-takers thought local and state governments should take an active role in maintaining and improving existing sites.
To dig in to each of these themes, keep scrolling. The Alliance will be conveying what you told us to elected officials in the coming months as we look for opportunities to increase access to and the condition of our valuable resources.
Residents of the Shenandoah Valley stayed in the Shenandoah Valley to enjoy the region’s world-class outdoor recreation sites.
During the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, residents of the Shenandoah Valley took advantage of local outdoor recreation sites, such as Seven Bends State Park, Shenandoah River State Park, George Washington National Forest, and Shenandoah National Park. Many respondents also regularly visited parks and trails within their towns. Popular outdoor recreation sites outside of the Shenandoah Valley, such as those in much of West Virginia, were rarely mentioned.
Respondents noted efforts to maintain strong social distancing curbed overnight trips and long distances travel for outdoor recreation. Many Shenandoah Valley residents said instead they developed locally based outdoor recreation habits that included weekly or even daily visits to sites within the region.
The survey sought references to specific destinations through two open-ended questions: “What outdoor recreation locations did you visit in March – June 2020?” and “Which location was your best experience and why?”. The most commonly named answer was Shenandoah National Park, followed by Seven Bends State Park. Overall, though, most respondents cited neighborhood trails and parks as their preferred destinations.
Residents of the Shenandoah Valley want accessible outdoor recreation sites within a thirty-minute walk or bike ride.
Residents of the Shenandoah Valley value easy access to outdoor recreation sites citing the ability to walk or bike short distances to nearby parks and trails greatly improved their quality of life.
In response to the question, “How much time are you willing to spend on the trip to the outdoor recreation destinations you visited (excluding special occasion trips)? [Traveling by foot]”, 60.4% of respondents expressed a desire to not walk more than thirty minutes. Similarly, 56.9% of respondents said they did not want to bike more than thirty minutes to their outdoor recreation site.
How much time are you willing to spend on a walking or biking trip to the outdoor recreation destinations you visited?
These results also suggest that developing new multi-use trails in the region to connect local communities with the large state and national outdoor recreation sites in the area would directly benefit residents of the Shenandoah Valley. Like visitors who come from our metropolitan areas, residents of the Shenandoah Valley often have to drive and park in order to hike, swim or fish in the George Washington National Forest, Seven Bends State Park, Natural Chimneys State Park, and other outdoor recreation sites. Increased access to nearby, high-quality recreation sites is desirable.
Residents of the Shenandoah Valley encountered closed outdoor recreation sites and overcrowding at open sites during the coronavirus pandemic.
While access to outdoor space provided respite to many during the pandemic, local families encountered a variety of barriers to engaging in outdoor recreation at sites in the Shenandoah Valley.
Of the 101 survey respondents who answered the survey question regarding barriers, 45.5% said that they encountered outdoor recreation locations that were closed due to the pandemic, and 25.7% said they had felt unsafe at sites that were open due to overcrowding. Many respondents reported an increase in the number of visitors to the George Washington National Forest and the state parks located in the Shenandoah Valley, perhaps, due to increased visitors from the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.
While residents of the Shenandoah Valley enjoy access to local outdoor recreation sites, these sites are also destinations for outdoor enthusiasts from outside the region. Pandemic-related barriers to enjoying these sites, such as the closure or limited access, places additional stress on the Shenandoah Valley’s outdoor resources.
had encountered outdoor recreation locations that were closed due to the pandemic.
felt unsafe at sites due to overcrowding from the pandemic.
Residents of the Shenandoah Valley think local and state governments should be responsible for maintaining and improving outdoor recreations sites.
As access to outdoor recreation becomes increasingly vital, residents of the Shenandoah Valley believe that local and state governments should maintain these facilities. Regular maintenance of outdoor recreation spaces includes ensuring cleanliness, safety, and accessibility. Further, the active creation of new outdoor recreation opportunities, such as new parks and trails, should be the responsibility of municipalities.
On a scale of 1 to 5, what level of responsibility do you think municipalities (local or state government) have for providing outdoor recreation opportunities for their constituents?
When asked “[On a scale of 1-5] What level of responsibility do you think municipalities (local or state government) have for providing outdoor recreation opportunities for their constituents?” residents of the Shenandoah Valley responded with an average of 4.26. Of those that responded to the question, 57.1% gave the highest score of a 5, suggesting that a majority of the residents of the Shenandoah Valley see providing and maintaining these outdoor recreation sites as a central responsibility of local and state governments.