COVID rekindled an appreciation of nature for many: An opportunity to rediscover why the great outdoors are so great in the first place

The pandemic has impacted our lives in a multitude of ways, many of which will no doubt be felt for years to come. While many of those effects are clearly negative, UConn researchers have identified at least one positive impact — our perception of natural spaces changed. The findings are published in Nature Scientific Reports.

As people flocked to outdoor spaces for recreation in the spring of 2020, Sohyun Park, assistant professor in UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, noticed some interesting trends: more people were on the trails, and many of those people had traveled from far away to enjoy nature.

Park was also part of the team for the Connecticut Trail Census and co-wrote a paper about the trends.

Sohyun Park of the Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture in her office in the W.B. Young Building. Mar. 8, 2022. (Jason Sheldon/UConn Photo)

“What’s interesting was rural trail use increased compared to urban trails,” Park says. “I wanted to try to find out how people were changing their mindset or their attitudes or perceptions.”

To do this, Park and co-authors Seungman Kim and Jaehoon Lee of Texas Tech University, and Biyoung Heo of James Corner Field Operations, looked to social media data and machine learning techniques to help make sense of the vast quantities of information on Twitter and try to find a pattern among those data, says Park. They utilized Twitter’s Application Programming Interface (API), which allows researchers to obtain aggregated data from Twitter posts.

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