Leveraging big data for outdoor recreation management: A case study from the York river in Virginia

Publication date
February 20, 2024
Sarah Ball Gonyo, Heidi Burkart, Seann Regan

Outdoor recreation is important for improving quality of life, well-being, and local economies, but quantifying its value without direct monetary transactions can be challenging. This study explores combining non-market valuation techniques with emerging big data sources to estimate the value of recreation for the York River and surrounding parks in Virginia. By applying the travel cost method to anonymous human mobility data, we gain deeper insights into the significance of recreational experiences for visitors and the local economy. Results of a zero-inflated Negative Binomial model show a mean consumer surplus value of $26.91 per trip, totaling $15.5 million across nearly 600,000 trips observed in 2022. Further, weekends, holidays, and the summer and fall months are found to be peak visitation times, whereas those with young children and who are Hispanic or over 64 years old are less likely to visit. These findings shed light on various factors influencing visitation patterns and recreation values, including temporal effects and socio-demographics, revealing disparities that warrant targeted efforts for inclusivity and accessibility. Policymakers can use these insights to make informed and sustainable choices in outdoor recreation management, fostering the preservation of natural resources for the benefit of both visitors and the environment.

Journal of Environmental Management