It was sunny and 65 degrees at the St. Urho’s Day parade last Saturday in Finland. Wednesday, however, 10 inches or more of snow fell on the small town, cancelling school in Lake County and postponing a workshop on the North Shore’s readiness for climate change scheduled at Grand Superior Lodge.
Extreme changes in weather are becoming more and more common along the North Shore and while Finland enjoyed a blanket of fresh snow, an hour south in Duluth, residents and motorists encountered a slushy mess. These types of variations along the North Shore are not unheard of, but can still cause headaches for visitors and the businesses relying on them.
“The weather in Duluth doesn’t tell you what’s happening on the North Shore,” said Mae Davenport, director of the Center for Changing Landscapes with the University of Minnesota.
Davenport’s program, a two-year project funded by Minnesota Sea Grant, was interested in better understanding community climate readiness from a number of different perspectives and data sources.
“We’re using climate data and environmental data to get a picture looking backwards,” Davenport said. “What have conditions been like over the last 30 years and then projecting forward to provide the scenarios for people to consider.”
One example of the study includes analyzing the historical data in regards to climate and weather with the vegetation changes in state parks. In addition to the environmental data, the study included an observation of the number of visitors and visitor use patterns when visiting the parks and how those numbers might fluctuate by changes in climate and environmental conditions.
“I think that if you are interested in some of our findings, we have found that there are some factors that increase visitation in our modeling and decrease it in our modeling,” Davenport said.
Some of the factors that increase or decrease tourism on the North Shore are varying degrees of the same trends. For example, slightly warmer temperatures during the spring or fall might increase tourism during those “shoulder seasons” of April, May and October. However, short term heat waves with days hotter than 95 degrees could decrease visitors to North Shore state parks by up to 90 a day.
“An increase in temperatures does increase visitation, but fire risk and high heat do not,” Davenport said. “Being responsive to those kinds of changes and being able to anticipate what a week of high fire risk might affect visitation.”
The economic impact of tourism on the North Shore can’t be understated. The study estimates between 1 million and 1.3 million visitors come to the North Shore each year and spend $220 per visitor while they are here, making it nearly a quarter billion dollar industry for the North Shore.
“People that plan a trip up here are going to come regardless, so if it is raining outside, we need to have really unique and rich experiences for people,” Davenport said. “Many of these opportunities are already available we just need to do a better job of promoting those.”
Davenport said an increased focus on the history, art and culture on the North Shore would help weather proof tourism and adapt to the changing climate.
“In these workshops we are trying to outline some action steps on what folks are willing to do, what might be possible with information sharing, coordination of actions across the North Shore, thinking about how visitors might adapt and how local businesses might help visitors adapt to a changing climate,” she said.
The workshop Davenport and her fellow researchers are conducting was rescheduled for 5-7:30 p.m. May 5 at Grand Superior Lodge. The event is free, but registration is required. For more information or to register, call (651) 246-0974 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.