Minnesota Research Reader

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Sprigs of scientific discoveries for natural resources managers

Volume 2 - January 2020 

Winter Recreation

Winter has come to Minnesota and this season has settled into its fair share of snow and cold temperatures. In this issue, we focus on research related to winter recreation activities, as well as how climate change is affecting the resources and communities that thrive on Minnesota's signature snow and cold temperatures. Most of Minnesota's observed warming has been in the wintertime, when it's coolest in our state. There are many resources illustrating how Minnesota's winters have been impacted by climate change, including this 2017 Report coordinated by the MN Pollution Control Agency and this great MN DNR tool to explore climate trends specific to your area. If you embrace winter outdoor activity, the MN DNR maintains a website that reports snow depth and groomed trail conditions across the state.

The Minnesota Research Reader is a collaboration between the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the USDA Forest Service that is intended to provide a quick look at emerging research relevant to our work in the State of Minnesota. Enjoy this wintery edition of the Reader and may it inspire you to get out and enjoy the snow!

People icefishing on lake at sunset


Climate change adaptation strategies and approaches for outdoor recreation 

Climate change will alter opportunities and demand for outdoor recreation through changing winter weather conditions and season length, changes in user preferences, and damage to recreational infrastructure, among other factors. Here, authors interviewed recreation managers and reviewed literature to develop a “menu” of potential climate adaptation strategies and approaches that address climate-driven recreation challenges. The menu is intended for use in project planning, and to serve as a stepping stone in translating broad adaptation concepts into specific actions.  

Management Implications:

  • Adaptation responses to winter recreation vulnerabilities will depend on the goals and objectives of a specific project, and may differ substantially from location to location.
  • The recreation menu was tested on two projects on two National Forests in very different environments. One of these (Somerset project, Green Mountain National Forest) included ample discussion of potential responses to changing winter recreation.
  • Some of the responses to changing winter conditions included improving conditions for backcountry skiing/snowboarding in areas expected to be suitable for the next few decades, and decommissioning areas for snowmobiling that are already freezing inconsistently and often unsuitable.
  • Overall in each test case, the menu encouraged consideration of longer time frames and a greater variety of options in recreation planning.

The emergence of "fat bikes" in USA: Trends, potential consequences and management implications

Fat biker on snow-covered trail

In the USA, sales and use of “fat bikes” have increased dramatically in the past five years. These bikes are designed to open new terrain to cyclists, including snow-covered trails and softer ground surfaces impossible to ride with a standard mountain bike. This study found that conflicts among winter trail users appear to be common, with cyclists reporting issues with both cross country skiers and snowmobilers. One rapidly developing approach for mitigating these conflicts is the development of winter trails specifically for fat bikes. 

Management Implications: 

  • Fat bikes have gained substantially in popularity over the last five years. These bikes open new terrain for cyclists, particularly winter snow trails.
  • As riders explore new terrain, or ride in areas maintained for other types of winter recreation, management concerns have emerged including ecological impacts, conflict with other recreationists, trail safety, and increased trail maintenance costs.
  • Many areas in the USA are actively perusing solutions to the above issues. Although little data exist, spatial and/or temporal separation of riders and other uses appears to be a particularly effective solution for many issues (See page 17 of this Greater MN Regional Parks and Trails Commission report for an inventory of shared use trails in northern MN).

Snowmobile parked on snow-covered trail, Chippewa National Forest

Projected climate change impacts on skiing and snowmobiling: A case study of the United States

This study modeled natural snow accumulation at 247 winter recreation locations across the continental United States and projected snowmaking conditions to determine skiing and snowmobiling season lengths under baseline and future climates. Changes vary by location, recreational type and climate scenario, but virtually all locations are projected to see reductions in winter recreation season lengths.

Management Implications:

  • Season length projections in the upper Midwest and northern Minnesota are mixed. Many locations are projected to experience shorter seasons. Some locations may have improved season length, where increased precipitation may offset temperature increases.
  • Season length changes could result in millions to tens of millions of foregone recreational visits annually by 2050, with a monetized impact of hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • Shortened seasons could stress economic viability if locations are unable to operate during the traditional travel periods of winter break and spring break.

Child snowshoeing in forest

A PGIS-based climate change risk assessment process for outdoor recreation and tourism dependent communities

This study explored using a participatory geographic information system (PGIS) to integrate stakeholders into planning for collaborative management of natural resources in Minnesota’s nature-based tourism dependent communities along the north shore of Lake Superior. Sixteen local stakeholders participated in surveys and in-person focus groups to explore the potential effects of climate change on built infrastructure, natural resources, and recreation and tourism destinations. 

Management Implications: 

  • Local stakeholders are often the first to notice changes and experience the impacts of climate change.
  • Maps identifying vulnerable locations along the north shore can be used in cooperative management and planning efforts such as the updates to the Superior National Forest --Forest Management Plan.
  • Moving forward, PGIS exercises can be invaluable in collaborative management planning, especially in generating list of critically vulnerable sites.

Photo credits from top to bottom: USDA Forest Service, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, US Fish and Wildlife, USDA Forest Service 

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