Publications

Preparing Washington State Parks for Climate Change: A Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for Washington State Parks

Citation

Whitely Binder, L., H. Morgan, and D. Siemann. 2017. Preparing Washington State Parks for Climate Impacts: A Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for Washington State Parks. A collaboration of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group. Seattle, WA. https://doi.org/10.7915/CIG6B27QV


Abstract

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission manages some of Washington’s most valued water bodies, diverse landscapes, and historical properties. The State Parks system includes 125 developed parks, including marine parks, historical parks, heritage sites, interpretive centers, and more than 700 historic properties. The agency also manages significant areas of wetland and riparian habitat, evergreen forest, beaches, rivers, lakes and approximately 500 miles of recreational trails. State Parks provides Washingtonians with the opportunity to connect with the State’s diverse natural and cultural heritage sites and to engage in recreational and educational activities. The ability of State Parks to preserve Washington’s diverse landscapes and continue to serve as a conduit of outdoor recreation and education is vital to the agency’s mission.

Preparation for the impacts of climate change has become critical as the agency strives to create and sustain a healthy parks system. Parks has already experienced many climate related issues which will be exacerbated by climate change. For example:

  • Winter flooding has resulted in campsite closures at Potlatch, Belfair, Twanoh, Ocean City, Twin Harbors, and Grayland Beach state parks.
  • Low snowpack years, such as the 2014-2015 winter, have resulted in lower Sno-Park permit sales and snowmobile registrations.
  • Wildfires have caused temporary park closures and have damaged park infrastructure. Washington’s record breaking 2015 fire season resulted in a five-week closure of Alta Lake State Park and damaged large swaths of forested park land.
  • In the Northwest Region, the beach and cabins at Cama Beach State Park frequently flood during annual King Tides.

Understanding how climate change may affect State Parks’ properties, facilities, operations, and state-wide programs is critical for ensuring State Parks continued ability to provide “memorable recreational and educational experiences.” Concerns about the effects of climate change impacts led the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission to pass a resolution in 2015 directing the agency to develop a climate change preparedness plan.

As an initial step toward developing that plan, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission contracted with the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group (CIG) to conduct a climate change vulnerability assessment for State Parks’ properties, facilities, operations, and state-wide programs. Understanding the impacts of climate change on State Parks is a necessary foundation for reducing climate risks, protecting Parks’ investments, and ensuring continued program success.

This vulnerability assessment combines published literature and data with the expert knowledge of Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission staff and CIG. To begin the assessment, CIG prepared summaries of projected climate change impacts relevant to State Parks from existing literature and data sets (available in Appendix B). CIG then convened four workshops with State Parks staff to assess the implications of climate change impacts on each of the Parks’ three regions (Northwest, Southwest, and Eastern) and on statewide programs (Planning, Stewardship, and Winter Recreation). Workshop participants were asked to rate their ability to adjust to projected climate impacts and to rate the expected consequences of the impacts to their mission and responsibilities.