Tuesday, November 28, 2023


Winter to become the new summer at national parks and other public lands

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.


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Mike Gast
Mike Gast
Mike Gast was the vice president of Communications for Kampgrounds of America Inc. for 20 years before retiring in 2021. He also enjoyed a long newspaper career, working as a writer and editor at newspapers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Oregon, and Montana. He and his wife, Lori Lyon, now own and operate the Imi Ola Group marketing company, focusing on the outdoor industry.



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BILLY Bob Thronton (@guest_150059)
2 years ago

If you look at the data, ALL THE DATA, climate always changes. Stop with trunkcating the timeline to make a false statement.

Marc Stauffer (@guest_149929)
2 years ago

In our area we have seen a very definable uptick in numbers of tourists and a lengthening of the tourist season. In years gone by, other than hunters, the tourist season ended in September. Our gateway town doesn’t quiet down now until February and the season starts back up again in late April.

Bob P (@guest_150077)
2 years ago
Reply to  Marc Stauffer

You didn’t say where your “area” is. In my area of south central TN, it still gets cold in Dec and stays that way until the middle of Mar with a few days of a 1/4” of snow over night that disappears by noon. In the months of May through Oct it’s hot and humid. If we’re lucky we get about 45 days of spring like temperatures between Mar 15 and May 1st, and we may get fall like weather the middle of Oct through Nov. it’s been that way for many moons as Tonto would say. 50 years ago it was rather cold in Oct thru Apr. since then it’s gotten warmer. Over the next 50 years it’s going to get cooler, we are peaking out with the earths normal 100 year cycle of cooling and heating. The scientist’s haven’t looked at records over the last couple of centuries to see this. This was something pointed out by an old climatologist 50 years ago when all the “experts” said we were entering the next ICE AGE. THIS IS ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO CONTROL PEOPLE!

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