Contrary to reports of a spike in new park visitors during this pandemic. A new study shows that the use of outdoor parks and trails in urban areas of North Carolina declined during the two summer months of 2020.

Researchers surveyed 611 residents of North Carolina in August 2020 and asked them about their use of outdoor park spaces during the pandemic and how it compares to the same month last year. The researchers also used cell phone tracking data to understand outdoor urban park use across the state during the pandemic last summer, residents who use their phones at points of interest with “park” in the name across 66 urban areas during July 2020 and 2019 were analyzed and gathered by the company SafeGraph.

The result shows that 56% of people have stopped or decreased their use of open spaces and trails in August of 2020. Approximately 27% show that their park usage didn’t change, and 16% reported increased use. The study also measured the narrative of people who were already likely to visit parks before the pandemic. This group is more likely to be white, Hispanic, or higher-income.

Data shows that frequent park users in pre-pandemic were 23 times more likely to increase their park usage during the pandemic, occasional park users were nine times more likely to have increase and the Higher-income group was the least likely to stop using parks.

The study also shows a decline in overall park visitation in urban areas, with visits down 15% from 2019 to 2020, and identified those with lower socioeconomic status are linked with lower park visitation. Areas with people who identified as Black, Hispanic, Indigenous, Middle Eastern, North African were also more likely to see declines in park visits.

The researchers stated that they’ve only focused on urban and suburban areas. They also emphasize that the finding shows the need to make sure that all people, across racial and income levels, have access to parks in urban areas.

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