Climate, Water Availability, and Southwest Park Visitation

Project Dates

This project addresses two related research questions. First, how does climate variability and water availability affect recreational visits to national and state parks in the Southwest? Second, what are the economic impacts of weather and environment-induced changes in visitation?

Parks in the study area received more than 35 million visits annually. These visitors spent more than $1.3 billion per year, generating more than 35,000 jobs. Although a small part of the overall Southwest economy, this employment and spending was quite important to local, rural economies. Accurate forecasts of visits to parks, and to tourist sites in general, were of great value to the tourism industry. Tourist services were seen as highly “perishable” goods. For example, a vacant hotel room unused one night cannot be “stored” and used again.

Although national and state park planning documents acknowledge the importance of climate on park visitation patterns, statistical analyses of park visitation have not included climate, water availability, or other environmental variables in their estimation. The project used multivariate regression analysis to examine the contribution of climate and other environmental changes on park visitation, controlling for other factors (such as spatial patterns of economic and population growth). The project used an input-output model to examine how climate and environmental change affect spending, income, and employment in areas around parks.