The Climate Crisis Will Alter Recreation in PA

While watching the autumn leaves drop outside a lodge’s window, sipping spiked cider, with the thermostat set to a cozy 72, it’s easy for travelers to overlook the influence the global climate crisis has on a single state’s recreation and tourism. But by mid-century, visitors to Pennsylvania will be in the midst of an inevitable evolution in how they experience the outdoors. Most won’t notice the changes the climate emergency is quietly carrying into the rustbelt region until the impact is direct – when heavier precipitation and steadily rising average temperatures alters the relationship with leisure.  

Inland flooding events are expected to continue to increase in intensity and frequency, particularly around Pennsylvania’s parks and forests, which receive around 45 million visitors each year. This severe weather may cause infrastructure damages to trails and recreational amenities or result in closures that limit access to green spaces. In December 2020, surprisingly significant rainfall was responsible for flooding and swift currents in Pennsylvania’s Delaware River corridor that prompted the National Park Service to restrict travel to and from the Delaware Gap Recreation Area. 

The worst-case model predicts Pennsylvania’s average high temperature will increase 5.9F before 2050, bringing heat waves and greater storms, whose runoff might expose outdoor enthusiasts to polluted waters that carry numerous health risks. Meanwhile, extreme heat will put pressure on recreational cooling at public pools and waterparks, especially in the state’s most populated cities – it’s likely some common activities will be reimagined for indoor venues. The biggest shift will be seen in the state’s snow and ski industry, though, which is expected to decline by 50% over the next three decades due to poor snow conditions. This loss will cost hundreds of millions in winter tourism revenue and niche resorts will no longer be economically viable. 

But it’s not all bad. Pennsylvania is positioned to reduce climate catastrophe and build on opportunity if it can get its policy together. With higher temperatures extending into travel’s shoulder seasons, there will likely be an uptick in traditionally warmer weather activities like hiking and boating in spring and fall, and a decrease during summer months. Spreading tourism more evenly over three seasons allows visited protected areas to maintain an ecological balance and encourages long term use of sustainable transportation methods, such as biking.