Sensing Real-Time Park Data

Funded: $75,000

At the entry gates to one of the world’s busiest National Parks, a constant flow of guests approach by car, bus, bike, and on foot. These guests are anxious for a Zion experience and seek advice. They rely on first-hand accounts, social posts, hotel frontline teams, and entrance gate Rangers to learn where to park, what shuttles to ride, and which trails have lower use depending on time of day or season.

In an effort to communicate with arriving visitors, the park updates in-town marquee signage about parking, provides instructions at the gate, and frequently posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Yet, until now, Zion, like other National Parks, has struggled to provide real-time information on use levels to visitors that are in or on their way to the park.

Blazing a new trail in the National Park Service, Zion is partnering with innovative data scientists and students at Dixie State University, Dixie Technical College, and Southern Utah University to document next-level understanding of visitor behavior. Teams of technologists are bringing machine learning, big data, and IoT sensors to document traffic flow at the entrance gates, in parking lots, trail use, and on the park’s shuttle system. During the first phase of their work, the Park Data team has provided Zion with up-to-date information on the number of available parking spots at the Visitor Center, allowing Rangers at entry gates to more effectively redirect vehicles to alternative parking. With a growing dataset, park management is better equipped to make informed decisions based upon predictive analytics, with the flexibility to manage traffic, parking and visitor distribution with live information.

The Park Data project brings the skills of Utah’s technology-centered workforce to make a unique gift of increased and applied data to park management strategies. In partnership with Zion National Park and the Zion Forever Project, the Park Data team seeks to share their findings as they set standards for data collection within National Park units. A gift in 2020 starts a data-driven Field School and distribution strategy for Utah students, and gives research teams capacity to create a shareable dashboard showing entrance, shuttle, and trail sensor information. The heart of this pioneering project centers on helping Zion’s guests plan better, less-crowded experiences at the park and visions the development of a mobile app in the future.