Our research group conducted field studies in Belle Isle Park from March to April 2017. Data collection included a general park layout survey, behavioral mapping and surveying park users.

General Park Layout Survey

This included a visit to the park to see how it was being used and allowed us the opportunity to pick our points of observations based upon which areas had the highest usage. We chose to do our observation at the bike course, the pavilion, and the rocks in between the river and quarry.

Behavioral Mapping

A behavioral map was drawn by each researcher to observe and track the behavior of park users to determine in which ways they utilize the space. Behavioral mapping allowed us to directly observe visitors and their activities in a somewhat inconspicuous manor.  We observed park visitors, two separate visits, each at different locations from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. We chose days that were sunny and warm to have the greatest opportunity of achieving accurate results. Below each researcher describes their specific technique and includes maps of their findings.

Matt: This method was a bit of learning experience for me. The challenge was trying to map a lot of people at the same time. For my first map, I mapped the pavilion area and for the second map I mapped the area by the riverfront. I decided to draw arrows because I wanted to show movement and direction. Then I jotted down a quick, few word description of the people. For stationary activity I tried to write the action and then see where a lot of the words clustered on the map. When I drew my final maps I decided to keep the arrows for actions requiring movement and added symbols where I had words on the draft, for stationary movements. A dot with a circle around it for sitting and laying, a football for throwing a football and a eight note for listening to music and a red oval for kayaking. For both my maps, I found the design of the park is consistent with the behaviors in the space , the trails being where the most walking, running, and biking took place. The rocks were where most people hung out, laid down, sat, or were sightseeing.

Kelly: For this portion of my field methods I chose to sit at the rocks and at the bike course to do my observations. I noted the gender, activities, and direction where individuals were traveling. It was difficult to keep up with all of the individuals that kept passing by, especially on the days when the park was busy. The colored in triangles are men and the non-filled in triangles are women, the smaller triangles are children. The bike wheels are individuals biking along the paths or at the bike course, the letters next to them indicate their gender. Lightening bolts indicate those individuals running/jogging. The directional arrows indicate in which direction park users are traveling. The maps are drawn from the perspective of where I was located. Below are redrawn and cleaned up versions of my initial observations.


I chose to observe the behaviors of the people at the bike course and the pavilion on two separate days. I observed each location once for about an hour. This was proficient because my group members also observed these two locations. We rotated making sure each area was observed twice. The first location, the bike course, was the least populated out of the two. The weather on this day was cloudy and chilly, which may have been a factor in the low numbers. I observed each person that came through. I observed their gender, whether they were an adult or child, the time they were observed, their direction, if they had a dog or not, and their activity. The majority of the people were walking on the path. There were twelve of them. Their were four people running, two biking on the path, and two biking in the course. There was one woman sitting at the table watching her kids bike. The second location, the pavilion, had far more people than the first location. It was so crowded I had trouble writing everyone who went by. There were around sixty-two people walking on the path and that was by far the activity with the highest amount of people. This location mainly seemed to be the traveling point. It seemed that everyone was going through it to get somewhere else or to exercise. There were a good amount of people sitting at the multiple picnic tables and talking, but the majority of the people were walking, running, or biking through. Nevertheless, this was a highly trafficked portion of the park. Overall, these two locations were mainly used for physical activities, such as walking, running, and biking.


A survey was utilized as a research method for collecting information on park users based upon a specified group of questions. The surveys provided information on the usage of the park and if the park met the needs of its users, and what improvements could be made if any. The specific questions that were asked in our survey were:

  1. What is your gender?
  2. What race do you identify with?
  3. Refuse to answer?
  4. Why did you come to the park today?
  5. How did you get to the park today?
  6. How often do you come to the park?
  7. In what ways can you improve the park?

To conduct our surveys we chose to be located at the North Side and South Side entrance. We had a total of 44 surveys with a variety of different answers to our survey questions. Here is a link to a spreadsheet of our data and below are charts depicting our data.


From our survey results we noted that the majority of park users were White males who arrived by car. The park received the majority of it’s usage dependent upon the weather at 25.6%. When park users were asked if there was any ways in which they would like to improve the park, they had a variety of different answers. Some of which include, more trash cans and restrooms, less litter, and more dog stations. These results gave no conclusive answer and a large portion of visitors had no answer to this question when asked.

Looking at our results it is interesting to note that the majority of park users were White. Data pulled from the United States Census Bureau for the city of Richmond shows that the majority of city population is 50.6% Black, while the White population stands at 40.8% (per 2015 data).  However, when compared to a map showing the racial distribution of Black residents throughout the city (2000 Census Data), we can see that the area where Belle Isle is located has a Black population of less than 4%, which could impact why there is such a large percentage of White park visitors.


From our behavioral mapping we showed that the park visitors usage of the park is consistent with what was intended with the design. Most visitors arrive from the Northside entrance and use the space as a place of relaxation and recreation. The only case of usage of the park that was unconventional was the building of a fire by one park visitor.

Park users came to Belle Isle for a variety of different reasons which include: biking, running, walking, drinking on the rocks, rock climbing, and relaxing and enjoying nature. When park users were questioned we had received a variety of different answers to this question, but these activities were the most prominent answers that we received. Since the majority of park users came to the park via car, we can ascertain that the park was their intended destination and was not a point of convenience, as the surrounding area does not have much to offer.

It is interesting to note the historical significance the island has as a Civil War Prison camp, and how that space is used today. The space could have been intended to be used as a place of historical reference, instead of the very recreational use it has today. The historical signage on the island is interesting because it does not seem to gel with the original intent of Belle Isle as an Urban Wild Park.

Overall, the park usage reflects the loose interpretation or intended purposes of the park design. The only feature on the island that is being used outside of the intended purpose are the rocks where individuals choose to drink alcoholic beverages, which are against park rules. Belle Isle is a successful example of the way parks can be designed and utilized to improve health and provide relaxation to city residents.