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Every day at 7:00 am and 7:00 pm, something interesting and “wild” is going on in Raleigh. Want to discover what it is? You can either take a stroll along the City of Raleigh’s Capital Area Greenway Trail System or, you can do what a group of NC State students, including myself, did during the 2014 spring semester: set out motion-detecting camera traps along the trails. These cameras detected a total of 2,759 animals (excluding domestic dogs) on and off trail during a 6-week study 7:00 am and 7:00 pm being the peak times for wildlife sightings.

The greenway is a network over 100 miles of paved and unpaved trails, most of which run along streams and rivers, surrounded by open green spaces home to an abundance of wildlife and natural beauty. NC State’s College of Natural Resources in collaboration with the Raleigh Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Department and the NC Museum of Natural Sciences took an inventory of the volume and nature of greenway use by people and wildlife using the cameras. Additionally, the class collected data about the environmental state of the land and waterways surrounding the trails. The results were presented publicly in the form of a report posted online and a presentation given at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences by the students.

The Greenway Planner, Lisa Potts, and citizens of Raleigh in general, were so interested by the data that the data analysis continued into the summer. That is where my internship began.

Larissa Lopez

Larissa presenting the final findings to the City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Planning Board in August 2014.

Under the supervision of Lisa Potts and NC State professor George Hess, who led the initial data collection in his Natural Resources Measurements course, I prepared a presentation of the findings for the city of Raleigh Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Planning Board. The presentation included final data, including sites we did not have time to analyze during the semester, about how, when, and where people were using the greenways and when and where wildlife was observed on the greenways.

An astonishing total of 47,386 people were observed using the greenways during the 6-week study period! We could not, however, differentiate between repeat users so this number does not reflect every individual user. From this total, we used a sample of 25,491 people (from the first 3-weeks of study) to identify use type. For the most part, males and females use the greenways in equal numbers, but not surprisingly, 90.7% were adults. Most people were detected walking (45.3%), followed by running (34.1%), and biking (17.7%). Weekends were the most popular days for heading out on the trails and 3:00 pm is the busiest hour of the day.

Furthermore, I attempted to find preliminary explanations for the trends in data, but there appeared to be no overt correlation with people use along the greenways and housing or population density, income, proximity to access points, or land cover.

The most frequently spotted animal was, unsurprisingly, white-tailed deer, followed by foxes, raccoons, and squirrels. There were also some rare sighting of woodchucks, horses, and one beaver.

The internship provided opportunities to publicize the information. I co-authored an article for the News and Observer and one for the Greenways Newsletter explaining the inventory, highlighting some of the findings, and urging people to take an interest in the Greenway in general.

Since most of this work was done independently, my office traveled with me and my work hours varied considerably. Because of the extreme flexibility, freedom, and responsibility that the format of this internship allowed me, I had to build a strict work schedule for myself. I set hours and deadlines for the work to be completed and any communication with supervisors or peers was done over email.

Ultimately, the greatest reward was being able to present a semester’s worth of hard work and interesting information to the public. The Greenway is a series of unique paths, but also a space in itself within our bustling city that many of Raleigh’s citizens have yet to discover on their own. The trails connect us to our fellow neighbor and us to the city. I hope that in some way I could encourage at least one person to seek this connection and discover for themselves all that is out there on the trails.