Staff from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Bureau of Sociological Research have been spending their weekends in Nebraska’s scenic state parks — not on vacation, but handing out surveys for Nebraska Game and Parks.
The survey project aims to collect feedback from parkgoers on how the parks are utilized, which amenities are wanted and needed, the costs and availability of permits, and possible improvements, along with additional topics and questions specific to each of the 22 parks included in the project.
“Nebraska Game and Parks is excited to partner with UNL-BOSR on the park user survey project,” said Michelle Stryker, planning and programming division administrator with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. “Their expertise on surveying will assist us in getting information from our park guests that can be validated and used for years to come.”
BOSR staff are visiting each park two to three times over the spring and summer, and speaking with park visitors to hand out surveys and gather contact information to follow up on survey responses. The project officially began in April, with survey dissemination continuing through Aug. 8.
“We have a goal of handing out about 8,000 surveys across 22 parks, and we’re hoping for a 40% response rate,” said Lindsey Witt-Swanson, associate director of BOSR. “People seem excited to participate when we tell them that we’re collecting these surveys because we want to know how the parks can be improved. We have been getting the response rate we thought we would, and more people are taking the surveys from us than expected.”
The parks included in the project are: Ponca, Platte River, Smith Falls, Eugene T. Mahoney, Fort Robinson, Chadron, Lewis and Clark, Johnson Lake, Lake McConaughy, Branched Oak, Medicine Creek Reservoir, Mormon Island, Fort Kearny, Fremont Lakes, Merritt, Calamus, Louisville, Lake Minatare, Summit Lake, Fort Atkinson, Ash Hollow and Buffalo Bill Ranch.
Game and Parks is also hosting the survey online for any park visitor who wants to participate but didn’t receive a print copy.
“We want to encourage anyone who has utilized a Nebraska state park to take the online survey,” Witt-Swanson said.
Data collection will continue until surveys stop coming in. Witt-Swanson expects BOSR researchers will be able to compile reports on their findings by the end of the calendar year.
Nebraska Game and Parks has conducted similar surveys in the past, the most recent in 2013, but this is the first time BOSR has been contracted for the project. It also marks the first time BOSR staff have disseminated surveys in person.
“We’ve done observational projects in specific places, such as the polling project on Election Day, but we don’t typically hand out surveys in person,” Witt-Swanson said. “We added 13 staff, both student and non-student workers, to help us.
“We needed to be on site because that was the most efficient way to reach parkgoers, especially from out of state. We followed closely the model used by the National Park Service.”
For Witt-Swanson, the project has been a reminder that Nebraskans have great recreational opportunities in their own backyard.
“When it comes to Nebraska, I realize I’ve barely seen anything, so it’s been really nice to be introduced to these different places that aren’t very far from where we live,” she said. “We have some great state parks.
“If you have a completed survey, please return it so we can make our parks even better.”