Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Climate change projected to affect outdoor recreation

Group ofkids snorkeling near shore
Climate change effects on swimming differes by region. Participation is projected to decrease in the North and South but increase in the Rocky Mountain region. Here, children participate in snorkeling activities at the Alexander Springs Recreation Area, Ocala National Forest, Florida. USDA Forest Service photo by Brandon Fair.

GEORGIA – Cool temperatures enjoyed by hikers might rise to the point that people may decide to stay inside instead of getting outside to enjoy nature. The culprit – climate change – will cause higher temperatures and uneven intensification of both drought and rainfall. As a result, outdoor recreation trends could change significantly.

A study by University of Georgia postdoctoral research associate Ashley Askew and USDA Forest Service social scientist J. Michael Bowker examined this relationship. The study looked at how climate change could impact outdoor recreation participation. Their findings are published in The Journal of Park and Recreation Administration.

First, the scientists created models of adult participation rates in 17 outdoor recreation activities, such as day hiking, fishing, horseback riding on trails, motorized water activities, birding, and swimming. They based the models on past national and regional data, with the expectation that they could simulate future rates.

They combined these recreation models with explanatory variable projections. Explanatory variables are the main factors that explain participation in outdoor recreation. These variables included income, temperature and precipitation, among others.

“We included socioeconomic variables to explain participation in given activities, in addition to some variables related to supply or availability,” says Bowkers. “For example, greater access to water in Florida would positively correlate with motorboating, while lesser access in North Dakota would be correlated with lower participation. In that context, a primary variable determining participation in motorboating would be access to water.”

“We looked at incorporating past climate data into our model to see whether or not differences in climate explained participation in a given activity,” adds Bowker.

The results project future changes in participation for those 17 outdoor activities, nationally and by region. Changes were measured as the difference between the projected 2060 rates with climate change and the 2060 rates without, using 2008 rates as a baseline.

Nationally, winter activities were most negatively affected by climate change: snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. Hotter temperatures were the main reason for the projected decreases in participation. Water activities – such as fishing, whitewater activities, and motorized water activities – are also expected to have lower rates of participation.

The researchers also examined the model projections for different regions in the U.S.: North, South, Pacific Coast, and Rocky Mountain regions. In the South, day hiking, swimming and fishing had the greatest decreases, while motorized water sports and birding had the greatest increases.