Vandalism hinders data collection on CK trails

Destroyed Eco-Counter. April 2021. (Photo by Barry Frasier, submitted by Genevieve Champagne.)

An effort to calculate trail usage in Chatham has hit a temporary roadblock after a counting device worth over $4,000 was recently destroyed by vandals.

CK coordinator of Active Transportation and Special Events Genevieve Champagne said a local resident contacted her about some vandalism that occurred on Sunday in O’Neil Nature Preserve (also known as Paxton’s Bush). An Eco-Counter that was temporarily installed on a tree along the Rotary Eco Trail was completely destroyed with pieces found scattered in the area. Champagne said the resident who contacted her was able to collect a few pieces, but some pieces are still missing.

“Eco-Counters are small utility boxes that have infrared sensors that count pedestrians and cyclists that pass in front,” said Champagne. “Once it detects someone, it logs that number into a database and then that number is uploaded to the Cloud. It allows us to see [overall] usage and time of day usage.”

Champagne said the data collected helps narrow down which trails are used most, which trails require more funding, and the best time to schedule maintenance. The data is then used in reports that are submitted for grants.

Three trail counters were installed in different areas in the fall of 2020 and Champagne said fortunately, some of the information collected through the destroyed Eco-Counter was saved.

“It records the data every 15 minutes and uploads it automatically to the Cloud,” she said. “All of the data is still obtained by the Municipality, I still have full access to everything up until that last transmission.”

Although most of the data was saved, Champagne said it’s still a tough loss because she was in the process of collecting information on how trail usage has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I was really excited to try and get a year study on it. I originally was going to do a six-week study on each of these trails but then the trail data came back so high… I just wanted to see how high it would go,” she said.

Champagne said the Rotary Eco Trail saw 39,000 users from October 15, 2020, to April 4, 2021.

“It’s a shame that we lost the counter because I can’t track anything now,” said Champagne. “It’s a big loss for me, I was really heartbroken.”

Trail counters can range in cost from $2,000 to $5,000 but Champagne said the Eco-Counter destroyed this past weekend was in the range of $4,800.

As a precaution, two other Eco-Counters installed on local trails have been removed. Champagne said eventually they will be reinstalled but the location will be changed to hopefully avoid another case of vandalism.

Champagne said she is currently working with the Municipality and with the company that provided the Eco-Counter to see if a replacement is possible.

If residents do comes across a trail counter in the future, Champagne asks that they be left alone as they do not damage or pose a risk to the trees.

“Leave it alone, it’s doing its thing. It’s not a camera, it is just a sensor that detects motion,” she said.

Champagne said she filed a police report on Tuesday.

Chatham-Kent police said there are no suspects at this time but anyone with information is asked to contact police at 519-436-6600 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).