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Visitation to national parks in California shows annual and seasonal change during extreme drought and wet years

August 9, 2023

This study examines the influence of drought indicators on recreational visitation patterns to National Park Service units in California (USA) from 1980 to 2019. We considered mountain, arid, and coastal park types across a climate gradient where seasonal recreational opportunities are directly or indirectly dependent on water resources. Significant departures from the normal hydroclimate, reflected by drought or unusually wet conditions, can lead visitors to change their behavior, including recreating at a different time or place. Drought conditions can facilitate earlier seasonal access at higher elevation parks, but displace visitors in other seasons and parks. Wetter-than-average conditions can displace visitors due to snowpack or flooding, but also facilitate other activities. We found a decrease in annual visitation at popular mountain parks including Yosemite (-8.6%) and Sequoia and Kings Canyon (-8.2%) during extreme drought years due to lower-than-average attendance in peak summer and fall months. Extreme wet years also had significantly reduced annual visitation in Sequoia and Kings (-8.5%) and Lassen Volcanic (-13.9%) due to declines in spring and summer use as snowpack restricts road access. For arid parks, drought status did not have a statistically significant effect on annual visitation, although extreme drought led to less use during the hottest months of summer at Death Valley, and extreme wet conditions at Pinnacles led to less visitation throughout the year (-16.6%), possibly from impacts to infrastructure associated with flooding. For coastal park units, extreme drought led to year-round higher levels of use at Redwood (+27.7%), which is typically wet, and less year-round use at Channel Islands (-23.6%), which is relatively dry, while extreme wet years led to higher levels of annual use at Channel Islands (+29.4%). Collectively, these results indicate the effect of extreme drought or wet years on park visitation varies by park depending on geography and recreational activities offered.

Publication Year 2023
Title Visitation to national parks in California shows annual and seasonal change during extreme drought and wet years
DOI 10.1371/journal.pclm.0000260
Authors Jeffrey S. Jenkins, John T. Abatzoglou, Emily Jean Wilkins, Elizabeth E. Perry
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLOS Climate
Index ID 70248274
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Fort Collins Science Center