The outdoor recreation industry is striving to be nature’s force in tackling climate change


Sections of Colorado rivers closed to fishing due to low water flows and warm temperatures. A decrease in the number of warmer down jackets sold due to shorter winters. Boats stranded in marinas due to low water levels.

The outdoor recreation industry is seeing the impacts of climate change on shopping habits and the challenges of delivering the types of experiences customers are looking for. The industry, increasingly vocal on environmental issues, uses the megaphone provided by its multi-billion dollar contribution to the US economy to help sound the alarm on climate change.

“It’s the fires and certainly the air quality that we’ve seen in cities. It’s drought, water levels for boating, rafting and kayaking,” said Jessica Turner, chief executive of the Round table on outdoor recreation, which represents thousands of outdoor businesses.

“Lake Powell could be having a banner year due to interest in outdoor activities, but instead boats can’t get in or out,” Turner added.

Water levels in Lake Powell, which straddles Arizona and Utah, are at record highs. The boat ramps have closed and businesses canceled houseboat rental reservations, USA Today reported. In Colorado, the boat ramps at Vega State Park and John Martin Reservoir are closed due to low water levels.

The environmental challenges come as more and more people visit national parks and forests as well as state parks and other public lands. The boat and recreational vehicle industries are among those struggling to keep up with orders after the pandemic shuttered concerts, theaters and other entertainment, sending people outdoors to escape.

Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Boats sit in the Wahweap Marina at Lake Powell in Page, Arizona on June 24, 2021. As a severe drought hits parts of the western United States, below-average water flow is expected to flow through the Colorado River Basin in two of its largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Lake Powell is currently at 34.56% capacity, an all-time low. The lake sits 138.91 feet below the full pool and has dropped 44 feet in the past year. The Colorado River Basin provides water to 40 million people in seven western states.

A survey conducted by the Boulder-based company Outdoor Industry Association said 7.1 million more Americans participated in outdoor recreation in 2020 than in 2019. About 160 million people aged 6 and older, or 52.9%, participated in at least outdoor activity, up from 50.7% in 2019 for the biggest one-year jump on record, according to the association.

But warm waters that have prompted mandatory and voluntary fishing closures on Colorado rivers have cooled angler interest. Ben McCormick’s company, Cutthroat Anglers in Silverthorne, canceled 16 of its fishing trips on the first day Colorado Parks and Wildlife imposed a voluntary fishing closure on part of the Colorado River.

The warm weather has led wildlife officials in Colorado and other states to close parts of rivers to fishing because high water temperatures lower oxygen levels, stressing or killing fish.

“This August we stopped running our afternoon half day trips and stopped booking extra floats just because we didn’t think there was enough product good to do it,” McCormick said. “It was definitely a massive disruption to our business.”

The advantage is that Cutthroat Anglers have permits to conduct trips on other rivers. The downside, McCormick said, is that the pressure increases on open areas.

Fishing brings in $2.4 billion a year to the state economy, according to the Colorado Wildlife Council.

Winter recreation knows its own rugged terrain. Pandemic-induced cabin fever helped the ski industry rack up 59 million skier visits during the 2020-21 season, the fifth-best season on record, the National Ski Areas Association reported.

But climate change is clouding the long-term prospects for winter recreation. A 2017 study funded by the Environmental Protection Agency said nearly all venues will experience shorter seasons, with some downhill ski areas seeing their seasons shrink by more than 50% by 2050 and 80% by 2090.

A major international scientific study published on August 9 by the United Nations said that a failure to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions means that the effects of global warming will intensify over the next 30 years. The report says the window to avoid worst-case scenarios is shrinking.

“When it’s not snowing or the winters are not getting shorter, as they have before, our industry suffers dramatically, and it’s not just ski resorts,” said Chris Steinkamp, ​​head of advocacy for Snowsport Industries America.

Manufacturers, sales reps, retailers and small businesses in mountain communities such as Aspen, Steamboat and Telluride are feeling the pinch, Steinkamp said.

Dan Gambino, Assistant Retail Store Manager...

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

Dan Gambino, assistant retail store manager at the Denver Rab store, works at the outdoor recreation company‘s store in Denver on August 19, 2021.

Warming trends, cooling sales

Rab Equipment can map the impacts of climate change through its sales of down jackets. Jon Frederick is the managing director of US operations for the British company, based in Louisville. He said the company has started providing insulated or down sleeping bags and jackets.

The pandemic, with its global supply chain disruptions, has caused product shortages. “The bigger conversation is clouded a bit by what’s going on right now,” Frederick said, “because right now everything is selling out. Anything that anyone can store is selling out.

However, a longer-term trend is the decrease over the past three to five years of warmer down jackets in the United States. Frederick attributes the change to shorter, less cold winters.

At the same time, sales of lighter jackets and three-season type garments, such as running and cycling shorts, are growing. So far, Rab hasn’t seen the same drop in sales of warmer clothes in other countries. Frederick said these other countries are generally at higher latitudes than the United States.

“But it’s very predictable and I think realistic that we’re going to start seeing these effects in northern latitudes as well,” Frederick said.

The high elevations and snowmaking capabilities of the Rockies help maintain relatively good conditions at resorts in the face of climate change, Matt Gold, CEO of Colorado-based Christy Sports, said in an email.

Additionally, resort communities are transforming into year-round destinations, which Gold says is a strategic shift that recognizes the long-term impact of climate change. Christy Sports saw the change as an opportunity to be a four-season outdoor retailer, he added, doing things like expanding its bicycle business.

Gold said Christy Sports is also partnering with other industry leaders concerned about climate change through Snowsports Industries of America’s ClimateUnited initiative. The SIA recently launched the initiative to focus the industry on carbon reduction targets and provide tools to address climate change, such as advocating for policy changes.

Turner, of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, said industry members are sometimes hesitant to talk about the impacts of climate change on their businesses as people lose their homes to wildfires and struggle. health due to extreme heat and bad air. “It’s so much bigger than our industry,” she said, “but our industry can make a big difference.”

Dead fish float in the water of Wonderland Lake in North Boulder on Monday August 9, 2021.

Intrinsic link

“Our industry is intrinsically linked to the natural world,” Steinkamp said. “Everyone wants to do something because it’s a business imperative.”

There is also an emotional imperative, added Steinkamp. “We’re in this business because we grew up outdoors and we love what we do and that’s why we do what we do.”

Rab Equipment’s goal is to reduce its carbon emissions as close to zero as possible by 2030 and reduce the balance through technology or carbon removal projects. Frederick said the company has switched to wind power to power its buildings and plug-in electric vehicles. As technology improved, Rab used more down and recycled fabrics in their products.

“I can think of a dozen brands that come to mind that all have really strong initiatives that are all a little bit different from each other. Together it creates this really powerful force,” Frederick said.

McCormick, the owner of Cutthroat Anglers, and other members of Trout Unlimited are working with Angry James Brewery in Silverthorne on a new beer to raise money for the Blue River Watershed Group. The group is developing a watershed management plan and the goal is to support the scientific work needed to make good decisions.

“It’s going to take everything we have from a conservation standpoint to maintain our natural resources here,” McCormick said. “That’s definitely what keeps me up at night. Prolonged drought, population growth. What will it be like here in 10 years if nothing changes?


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