Climate-Driven Summer Heat Is Already Impacting Outdoor Recreation

"Could summer become a new offseason?"

"It’s a 90-degree spring day in Moab, Utah, and dozens of people have the same idea: Escape the heat and blistering sunshine by hiking the Mill Creek waterfall trail. The short hike is decently shaded, with opportunities to dip hot feet in the creek—and swim in a small waterfall at the trail’s end. But even this oasis can be dangerous when it comes to extreme heat.

“I wasn’t staffing anybody at Mill Creek in March, but now I’m staffing people there every weekend,” says Anna Sprout, a “responsible recreation coordinator” with Grand County. Her job involves ensuring that all the popular trailheads have “trail ambassadors”—people who can teach visitors about how to recreate responsibly by doing things like staying on trail and keeping cool. During warmer months, trail ambassadors often remind hikers to make sure they’re bringing water and electrolytes with them. For two months of the popular tourism season, however, county officials don’t place trail ambassadors anywhere. It’s simply too hot to be outside all day in July and August.

Like many places in the West, Moab relies on tourism, especially outdoor recreation, as a major piece of its economy. Now, rising temperatures are beginning to upend how and when people travel. The Southwest has always been hot: “Too hot in Moab in August?” has been a TripAdvisor forum question since at least 2010. But heat is beginning to rise to the top of travelers’ minds. According to a 2024 AAA travel survey, 25 percent of travelers across 13 states said increasing summer heat would impact their travel plans. Nine percent said they decided to not travel at all in the summer this year due to heat."

Alison Harford reports for Sierra magazine June 6, 2024.

Source: Sierra, 06/13/2024