Climate Change Threatens the Great Outdoors


Paddling on the Verde River Blue Trail, AZ | Doug Von Gausig

Paddling on the Verde River Blue Trail, AZ | Doug Von Gausig

Summertime. The perfect time to be outside, enjoying endless rays of sunshine, running barefoot, splashing in cool water and drinking lemonade. I often picture, as I sit in my cubicle, the adventures I could set off on – hiking deep into the woods, running along a trail, kayaking gently down a river or just sitting along the shore of my favorite river flowing before me.

Earlier this week, the Denver Post released an article describing a bucket list of 10 different river trips to try in Colorado. As a new Denverite, you can imagine my thoughts quickly shifted to uninterrupted memories of river trips past. 

Recreation, vacations, and family and friends were, and continue to be, the highlight of my summer. I know many of you have similar adventures and stories that you often share over an ice cold beer, perhaps with the sun slowly setting behind you. Here in the Intermountain West, we can proudly say that many of the “best” rivers in America – the mighty Colorado, Clark Fork, Rio Grande and the Green to name a few – are right in our backyard. In the summer, these rivers and the communities surrounding them are bursting with vacationers looking to paddle, fish, hike, or just enjoy the natural setting, a treasured escape from the grind of the city.

However, many of our favorite places are at risk. Increasingly unpredictable water flows, altered rainfall patterns and warmer temperatures have and will continue to threaten our treasured locations. As more people look to both reconnect and introduce newcomers to their special places, it is critical that states and communities think ahead and prepare to protect, restore and keep alive these sacred areas from the impacts of climate change.

Tourism is also an essential backbone for the nation’s economic health. Just last year, the Outdoor Industry Association [PDF] reminded us of the economic value associated with our love for the outdoors through recreation. Outdoor recreation participants spend $86 billion annually on watersports (kayaking, stand-up paddling, rafting, canoeing and motorized boating), the second highest revenue stream, with camping in the lead at $142 billion.

The Colorado River alone supports a $26 billion dollar industry that many individuals count on for their livelihood and that many of us recreationalists depend on for our sense of adventure. Watersports directly support more than 800,000 jobs annually. Failing to protect our beloved recreational waters with climate preparedness in mind could be a detrimental hit to jobs and the economy.

Last month, American Rivers and the Natural Resources Defense Council released Getting Climate Smart, which outlines a wealth of strategies that will help resource managers, park and recreation officials, outfitters and other businesses dependent on tourism and recreation to protect and restore the water and land resources they so critically depend on for their livelihood and local economies.

Siting new development in a way as not to interfere with recreation, installing green infrastructure to protect lakes and streams from polluted runoff, encouraging water reuse for parks and golf courses, and protecting riverside habitat along rivers are just a few suggestions.

Everyone wants clean water. Protecting and restoring river corridors provide a number of benefits that we all appreciate: they safeguard clean, cold water for fish, wildlife and humans; allow for wetlands to conserve natural water storage abilities; and soak up excess water from floods preventing significant flooding to nearby community. Ensuring that the habitats around our rivers and lakes are protected helps to safeguard the areas that we love.

Communities can use unique protection strategies like Blue Trails to incorporate recreation into the protection of rivers and their surrounding land. Connecting protected riverside land is essential to ensure wildlife and fish will have routes to new habitat as conditions change, and will ensure that we as hikers, anglers and paddlers can enjoy them for years to come.

Summertime is the perfect time to reflect on our favorite special places, embrace the beauty and remind ourselves why they are so important to protect. Let your state officials know that by Getting Climate Smart they can help protect these special places for the enjoyment and benefit of future generations.

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