Could winter be the new summer when it comes to tourists visiting National Parks and public lands?
That’s the premise behind a new report in the journal Global Environmental Change. The report says that as the planet continues to warm up due to climate change, demand for outdoor recreation on public lands in hot summer months just might nosedive.
Dr. Emily Wilkins, the lead author of the study, said while other studies have been done that attempt to forecast the effect of global warming on visitation to specific national parks, none had taken a look at seasonal effects on all state and federal lands until her study. The new study looked at the Bureau of Land Management, national wildlife refuges, state parks, national forests, and national wildlife refuge lands.
Why the swap?
“Across the whole U.S., we were finding that in the summer, as temperatures warm, we would expect to see visitation decrease at many parks and protected areas,” Wilkins said in an interview with KUNR TV. “I guess, in a lot of places, it’s going to be getting too warm that people are no longer going to want to be visiting in the summer necessarily.”
Wilkins said that summer demand for visitors could switch to winter months. “In the winter, as temperatures continue to warm, more people are going to want to be visiting parks and protected areas in the winter than they have in the past,” she said.
More factors than just weather
Wilkins pointed out that there could be other factors in play besides rising temperatures. Population shift, for instance, could increase or decrease visitations in certain regions. The prevalence of droughts or increased wildfires that cause both smoke and damage desirable public lands could also play into future visitations.
Wilkins said she doesn’t expect any of these factors to make people stop traveling or visiting public lands. She does think that we will see a shift in the times of year for visits. “So instead of always going on vacations in the summer, people might go in the winter instead,” she said.
“I think it’s just going to change the way people recreate, maybe the activities they’re doing, where and when they’re visiting, and I think gateway towns need to be prepared for that, too,” Wilkins said.
Businesses will have to adjust
She also said if gateway towns want to capitalize on a shift in seasonal travel, they may have to consider keeping businesses open year-round as the climate continues to warm.
Wilkins said while there aren’t many bright spots in her report for those who accept global warming as a reality, she thinks some might find increased opportunity on public lands.
“For instance, people who really like mountain biking. As the climate warms and there’s less snow, that also expands the mountain biking season or the hiking season,” Wilkins told KUNR. “It’s not necessarily good for everyone, but I think certain groups of people might have longer seasons where you can be outdoors in – and I think that’s a positive.”
You can download a copy of Dr. Wilkin’s report here.