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Counters show sky-high James River Park usage

Andy Thompson

September 4, 2014 2:06pm

Back in late May, I reported on the installation of counters — vehicle and infrared — at seven different units of the James River Park. The counters were made possible by a $2,000 gift from the Friends of the James River Park and the James River Outdoor Coalition. The idea with the counters was, for the first time, to acquire actual usage numbers for the 20-parcel, 550-acre park that runs through the heart of Richmond. Up until then, usage surveys were conducted and visitation estimates were extrapolated from there.

Infrared counters are used to count people at a couple of park locations.

Infrared counters are used to count people at a couple of park locations.

With the heavy summer park-use season now over, I spoke with Nathan Burrell, JRPS superintendent, to see how much mounting those counters did. The results were pretty astounding.

“Up through July we were at 500,000+ visitors,” he said. “That’s May through July. And we only have counters at seven locations right now.”

Burrell said he’ll be getting the August numbers by the end of the week, and he expects them to be somewhere north of 100,000 visitors but probably less than July’s 160,000 tally. June had 141,000.

Burrell explained that they use a conservative coefficient to account for the fact that many of the cars that arrive at the park have multiple people in them and some people use the park more than one time a day.

“We’re missing some people there, but we thought it was a safe number. We wanted to be conservative. The last thing I wanted is to be wildly high and then people just disregard them.”

To put these numbers in perspective, in February the Times-Dispatch reported that Maymont was the “most-visited place in the Richmond area,” with 527,153 visitors in 2013. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts was second in the region with 479,907 visitors. Rounding out the top five were the Children’s Museum of Richmond with 393,529 visitors; Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden with 339,139 visitors; and Three Lakes Nature Center and Aquarium with 304,621 visitors.

The James River Park has always been a popular place. We now know how popular. Credit: Richmond.com

The James River Park has always been a popular place. We now know how popular. Credit: Richmond.com

The Washington Redskins training camp brought in 164,789 visitors this year.

Burrell said that in 2012, the park system conducted a survey of usage from which they extrapolated a year-long visitation number: that number was between 500,000 and 1.5 million. “We’re going to be close to that million mark (when 2014 is over),” Burrell said.

Here’s some more perspective that city council and the mayor should take note of for future budgets. The JRPS with it’s 1 million or more visitors a year is maintained by four full-time employees (including Burrell), two seasonal employees and one part-timer. That’s something to keep in mind when proposals for $250,000 Carytown signs and redundant, million-dollar bridges over the Haxall Canal come up for debate.

About Andy Thompson

I was the Outdoors Columnist at the Times-Dispatch from 2007 to 2013, writing twice a week about mountain biking, fishing, hunting, paddling and much more. I live a 1/4 mile from the James River, close enough to see bald eagles soaring over my house on their way to find a meal. Pretty cool, eh?