Scientists have tapped the power of Flickr to find out more about visits to conservation land in Vermont, and have even been able to put a price tag on all those visits.

Researchers from the University of Vermont used data from over 7,000 Flickr photographs that were taken in parts of the Green Mountain State that are protected, like a state park or a national forest.

Because Flickr lets users list their hometown, the researchers could figure out (in some cases) whether a visitor came from out of state, or was a Vermont resident.


Ultimately, they calculated that people paid 29.1 million visits to conserved land in Vermont between 2007 and 2014, according to Laura Sonter, the first author on the new study and a postdoctoral researcher at the university. They were even able to figure out the financial value of the visits, estimating an influx of $1.8 billion to Vermont’s economy during those years.

“Historically, it’s been difficult to assess the value of protected lands,” Sonter said in a statement. “Many parks only staff entrance booths in the summer. Some areas gather no data, or rely on surveys, which are time-consuming and expensive to collect.”

The method-- utilizing the data behind a photo-sharing website-- represents an inexpensive way for institutions to track when people visit protected natural areas, according to Sonter.

The study was published recently in the journal PLOS ONE.

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