This week as we mark the 30th anniversary of our 1986 North Pole expedition, Will Steger has noted that global warming has disintegrated the Canadian ice shelf from which we launched out across the Arctic Ocean: human-induced climate change has eliminated our route. While that may only impact a few extreme adventurers like us, here at home climate change is taking a huge toll on winter recreation and tourism.
In the 35 years that we’ve operated Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge in Ely, Minnesota, we’ve watched our season diminish by nearly 20% — from an average of 116 operating days to about 94. And our winter tourism industry is the lucky one – dogsledding is very accommodating of marginal snow conditions. All our dogs need is a few inches of snow & off we go.
But cross-country skiing & snowmobile tourism need a much more substantial snow base. Those tourism sectors are measuring their operating loss over the past few decades not in days, but rather in weeks. In fact, during some recent winters we’ve only had a 3-4 week window of optimal x-c skiing and snowmobiling conditions here in northeastern Minnesota’s Arrowhead – a region that had been renowned nationally as a winter recreation mecca.
The one major Great Lakes-region study on the vulnerability of winter recreation to climate change (a 2002 NOAA Sea Grant study) concluded that the winter sports season would be reduced 55% by 2020. Sadly, some sectors of winter tourism are already experiencing that much reduction.
On a personal level, the biggest impact of climate change to our business involves family legacy. With four decades of sweat equity invested in creating Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge, we were once hopeful of passing it along to our children as their means of crafting a livelihood, home & family in our beautiful northwoods. We’re still hopeful they’ll find a way to live here in Ely, but winter tourism no longer offers them a sustainable future.
Paul & Susan Schurke, founders/operators
Wintergreen Dogsled Lodge and Wintergreen Northern Wear, Ely, MN