The recreational value of the Great Lakes simply cannot be described; it is something you must experience for yourself. Whether it is the memories of tubing as a kid, spending hours on end relaxing on the pontoon, or your first snowmobile trip, these experiences speak volumes about the importance of Lake Michigan to Wisconsin residents and visitors.
While the recreation provided by Lake Michigan and its beaches plays a vital role in many Wisconsin residents’ lives, it is also a major component of Wisconsin’s economy. Wisconsin has almost 200 beaches, and many of the towns surrounding these beaches have economies that rely on the tourism and revenues recreational activities create. These sources of revenue range from resorts and restaurants to marinas and sport outfitters.
According to an NRDC report, economists estimate that a typical swimming day is worth approximately $35 to each individual, and one study found that the economic loss resulting from closing a Lake Michigan beach due to pollution could be as high as $37,030 per day. These numbers show just how valuable Lake Michigan is to both Wisconsin residents and tourists; unfortunately, some of the things we love so much about Lake Michigan may be at risk due to climate change.
The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts found that as global temperatures rise, ice cover in Lake Michigan will decline. This will directly affect recreational activities such as skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing by reducing the amount of ice available. These changes may also lead to an increase in the length of the boating, fishing, and swimming seasons, but as the ice cover declines, lake levels will be lowered, which could have a negative effect on the aesthetic qualities and integrity of our beaches.
These challenges that Wisconsin’s beaches and coastal ecosystems will face require immediate action to try to protect the billions of dollars of economic activity that are generated in these areas. With four of Wisconsin’s largest cities residing on the shore of Lake Michigan, the impact of climate change on our recreation and tourism may be catastrophic unless we work to change our lifestyles.
-Contributed by Taylor Lundberg, water program intern.