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Frequently Asked Questions

    Why does USACE need to survey?
    As the nation’s premier recreation host, the USACE seeks to fulfill its mission of providing high quality recreation experiences for its millions of customers across the country. USACE fills this role by offering low-cost and attractive lakeside facilities brimming with activities such as boating, fishing, hiking and bicycling, all within an hour’s drive of most Americans’ homes. To achieve this mission year after year, USACE must have an accurate understanding of the relationship between its parks and the people it serves.

    USACE is undertaking a program to obtain an improved counting of its millions of visitors, and an analysis of the kinds of activities these visitors like to engage in when they are at the parks. This program is an expansion of the Visitation Estimation and Reporting System (VERS) that USACE has used since the 1980s. VERS surveys are designed to sample visitors at select parks and apply the information obtained to traffic counters in the area to estimate the number of visitors using the lake and surrounding lands.

    Who is doing the survey?
    USACE is partnering with The Student Conservation Association (SCA) to conduct the survey. The SCA has hired student interns to survey passengers of vehicles exiting USACE lakes with a brief questionnaire. Summer 2017 is the second time USACE has partnered with the SCA to perform these surveys. The surveyors will explain to vehicle passengers that, while taking the survey is voluntary, each individual’s input provides valuable information that helps ensure that the park staff understands the recreation needs of its visitors.

    The SCA interns wear yellow reflective vests and SCA shirts in order to be visible and identifiable with their role as survey-takers. Traffic control signage will be located on the USACE roads to request that all vehicles stop for the survey. Answering survey questions takes approximately three minutes, sometimes less. Information collected during the surveys include questions about the amount of people in the car and their use of the land and water resources at the time of the interview.

    What will USACE learn from the survey?
    Vehicle or traffic counters are used at USACE parks to get an estimate of the volume of use that an area receives. These counters record vehicular use 24 hours a day. The survey results are applied to the counts to convert traffic volumes to estimates of people, length of stay and activities of use. This is the kind of fundamental visitor information that will be available to USACE managers for use in planning facilities, working with partner organizations, and creating and evaluating recreation programs. Once the benchmarks from this current survey are established, USACE managers will be able to evaluate changes in recreation use and visitor behavior. These changes will reveal trends in recreation, showing increases or decreases in overall visitation, and changes in recreation types. When significant changes in recreation and visitation occur, USACE will be able to make appropriate changes to their accommodations. Without adequate information on the estimated number of people on USACE lakes, issues like water safety cannot be fully evaluated.

    The survey is in two parts, a park survey and a follow-up web-based survey. Not all visitors will receive both surveys.

    Park Surveys
    This survey is conducted by in-person interviews. The surveyor will ask a series of questions and record answers in a computer system. The questions will cover each visitor’s park visit, the number of people in the vehicle (including if passengers are children or seniors), the amount of time spent at the park, if visitors stayed overnight at the park or in the immediate area and the types of activities participated in. Surveyors will also ask a few demographic questions. The park surveys take less than three minutes to complete.

    Online surveys
    A subset of visitors will be asked to provide an email address and answer additional questions about their visit. These questions will focus around the trip expenses associated with their visit. It is every bit as important for us to know the percentage of folks that visit our lakes every day to walk their dog and have no large expenses associated with their trip as it is for us to know about the campers that spent 14 nights at the lake and contributed to the local economy. This type of information allows us to develop economic impact information and helps determine the regional economic value of the lake associated with the recreation visitor.

    A subset of visitors will be asked to provide an email address and answer additional questions about their visit. These questions will focus around trip expenses associated with their visit. This type of information allows us to develop economic impact information and helps determine the regional economic value of the lake associated with the recreation visitor.

    Estimates of economic impact information can be found at the Recreation Fast Facts of the Value to the Nation website ( You may be surprised to learn that visitors to USACE lakes and river projects generate upwards of $11 billion in spending in the local economies. This website also provides information on spending in each state and on each lake.

    Where will surveys occur?
    Each year USACE researchers determine which lakes will be surveyed. For 2017 there will be surveys taking place during the months of June - September. The following lakes are scheduled to have surveys at some of their parks:

    • Iowa, Mississippi Valley Division, Rock Island District
      • Saylorville Lake
      • Red Rock Lake
    • Kentucky, Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, Louisville District
      • Green River Lake
      • Nolin Lake
      • Barren River Lake
    • Arkansas, Southwestern Division, Little Rock District
      • Beaver Lakes

    How long will you be surveying?
    A pretest of the instrument was conducted in the fall of 2011 at Nashville District lakes and surveys were conducted in 2013 and 2013 in seven regions of the country. In 2017, surveys will be conducted from June – September 2017 and an additional set of surveys will be conducted from September - November. Each year an annual plan will be evaluated and we anticipate surveys to be conducted at a variety of locations across the country for the next three years.

    Who approved the surveys?
    The onsite surveys were developed at the USACE Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, MS. The web-based visitor spending survey was developed in cooperation with Michigan State University. The Office of Management and Budget approved the survey questions and authorized the use of burden hours to administer the surveys under OMB Approval 0710-0020.

    Who may I contact about the surveys?
    Send comments and questions regarding this survey to the USACE Visitor Survey Project Manager (

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Updated: June 2017