A range of climate change impacts is already affecting and will continue to affect public parks, recreation, and cultural resources in California, as well as how Californians interact with the outdoors. Safeguarding these resources while accommodating the desire for increased access to parks and recreation is critical to connect Californians to both their natural environment and state history, provide places for gathering and education opportunities around climate change, and also to yield public health benefits such as cooling, clean air, and space for exercise. For additional background information and discussion of climate impacts and vulnerabilities of the Parks and Recreation Sector, visit the Background & Climate Impacts information excerpted from the Adaptation Planning Guide and explore the Topic search below.

Although climate change adds to the challenges of managing these resources, actions by local and State agencies, in coordination with diverse partners, can help ensure that parks, recreation, and cultural resources can be enjoyed by future generations. Examples of adaptation strategies are provided on the Adaptation Strategies page and can be found in many of the resources available by search below.

Defining the Sector

The Parks, Recreation, and Culture sector provides places for gathering to increase social cohesion; yield public health benefits such as cooling, clean air, and space for exercise; and creates opportunities to educate the public about climate change.34 This sector frequently overlaps with the biodiversity and habitat, forests, ocean and coast, and water sectors, because parks and recreational areas are closely tied to natural ecosystems. This sector supports approximately 700,000 jobs in urban and rural areas across the state and recognizes that recreational play, family vacations and daytrips, educational opportunities in parks and historic sites, and routine interactions on neighborhood playgrounds and in community spaces bring people together around treasured places that are a vital part of California’s culture.35 Historic and cultural resources also play an important role in the Parks, Recreation, and Culture sector, because these resources often protect California cultural and tribal cultural heritage, while attracting visitors to local communities to support tourism. The goal of this sector is to prepare for and respond to climate effects to parks and recreation along the coast, inland, in the mountains, and in urban areas so that these resources are accessible to communities and provide opportunities for enriching experiences.

Major Vulnerabilities

Vulnerabilities in the parks and recreation sector vary widely depending on the location throughout the state.36 In the coastal region, trails, beaches, state parks, parking lots, piers, campgrounds, and other park facilities are vulnerable to damage and inundation from sea level rise and coastal erosion. In inland areas, drought can reduce water availability at reservoirs and campsites, compromising water recreation activities and leaving campsites without water. In mountain areas, drought and warmers temperatures are reducing snowpack, which is leading to shorter winter sport seasons and loss of recreation-dependent jobs in rural communities. Communities that depend on winter and/or summer recreation may lose important park facilities, forcing people to look elsewhere for work.

Parks and recreation vulnerabilities also differ based on urban and rural community settings. In urban areas, unshaded bike paths and trails become less attractive during extreme heat conditions, and high temperatures can make outdoor recreation dangerous for children, seniors, and people with chronic illnesses. In rural areas, wildfires and trees made hazardous by pests and diseases deter hikers and bicyclists and close campgrounds, parks, roads, and trails, which in turn impacts local economies. Warmer temperatures can also increase the temperature of freshwater habitats, leading to toxic algal blooms that make fishing and other water recreational activities dangerous. Both local and urban areas are vulnerable to flooding that can wash out trails and roads, cutting off recreation areas and facilities.

Historic and cultural resources are uniquely vulnerable because their locations are often significant as well, and therefore they cannot be moved. In some cases, historic buildings adapt naturally to extreme heat and severe weather conditions through architectural features such as raised foundations, overhangs, recesses, wall materials, and other site and design features. However, historic buildings and sites can be damaged or become inaccessible due to sea level rise, coastal storms, wildfires, and flooding, and they can require extensive repairs that interfere with visitors to these sites. Tribal cultural resources, such as native fisheries, gathering places, and traditional sources of food and medicine are essential for tribal culture throughout California. These resources are threatened when droughts affect salmon populations, more intense wildfires burn through important forested lands, and sea level rise and extreme heat make the land uninhabitable, forcing tribal nations to relocate.

Appendix C presents examples of ways that communities can support a more resilient parks and recreation sector as part of adaptation planning effort. These strategies are generalized approaches that can be refined for the specific parks and recreation activities and programs in a community.

Climate hazards Adaptation Strategy Factors to Consider Category Sector overlap Responsible Agencies Funding Examples & Sources
Parks, Recreation, and California Culture Sector
Sea level rise, flooding Strategy PRC-1: Develop coastal management plan to protect park infrastructure and natural resources. Local and regional governments can work in partnership with the California Coastal Commission to develop coastal management plans for infrastructure and natural resources used for park and recreational purposes. This plan could include protecting existing open space adjacent to the coast, restoring dune habitat to increase the resilience of beaches, using soft or natural solutions for protecting structures facing flooding or inundation, require mitigation for impacts to public access, and the retrofitting or relocation of recreation and visitor-serving facilities. Coastal management plans should consider the residents, visitors, and historic and cultural resources in coastal areas. During periods of extreme heat in inland areas, there may be an increase in the number of visitors to coastal areas. These plans should also consider managed retreat for relocation of trails, parking lots, park facilities, and cultural resources farther inland. Plans, Regulations, and Policy Development Ocean and Coast Land Use and Community Development Cities and Counties Local and Regional Parks and Recreation Departments LCP Local Assistance Grant Safeguarding California: 2018 Update California Coastal Commission’s 2018 Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance Living Shoreline Academy
Pests and diseases, flooding, landslide, wildfire, severe storms Strategy PRC-2: Collaborate with local and regional partners to provide robust trail and park maintenance to prevent and respond to damage from climate change effects. Fallen trees, flood waters, wildfires, landslides, and severe storms, among other effects, can all damage trails and parks. To prevent long-term closures of park and trail facilities, local governments and collaborate with regional park districts and California State Parks to maintain park and trail facilities. Park management agencies can harden and stabilize park buildings and trails to prevent future damage. Local agencies should consider funding and land ownership when providing robust trail and park maintenance. Preventative activities to make parks and trails more resilient can often receive grant funding, whereas recovery efforts more likely will derive from emergency funds. However, preventative measures can help avoid damage to facilities that would cost more money to fix. Education, Outreach, Coordination Programmatic Forests Local and Regional Parks and Recreation Departments CA State Parks California Department of Parks and Recreation California Natural Resources Agency Safeguarding California: 2018 Update Park Planner’s Toolbox
All hazards Strategy PRC-3: Maximize opportunities for the public to participate in and inform the parks and recreation adaptation planning process. When park districts, California State Parks, or other park management agencies update park plans to add adaptation elements, public participation should be maximized. This could include several different outreach strategies, including public workshops, surveying persons using park facilities, and talking to stakeholders from nearby communities about the parks and recreation planning process. Outreach should include both residents of the area and visitors to the area, as these populations are both key stakeholders for parks and recreation. Any type of public participation should be in multiple languages and culturally appropriate to the demographics that these programs would be serving. Education, Outreach, Coordination Land Use and Community Development Cities and Counties Local and Regional Parks and Recreation Departments CA State Parks California Department of Parks and Recreation California Natural Resources Agency Safeguarding California: 2018 Update
Extreme heat, flooding Strategy PRC-4: Identify park-poor communities and ensure that new urban parks and trail systems are within walking distance to underserved populations and are connected to high-density infill, homes, and offices. Many neighborhoods with urban areas may not have access to parks and trail systems that can promote healthy living and active transportation. Local governments can work with community members and community-based organizations to identify these areas and designate land to build parks and recreational areas. These can include connections to larger trail networks, or pocket-parks in the center of urban areas. It is important to involve communities’ members from the onset of urban park planning to receive feedback and find consensus on what is best for the community. When building parks in park-poor communities, it is essential to ensure that communities have ownership of their neighborhood parks. This can be achieved through integrating local cultural assets such as stories, public art, cultural activities, artists, and traditions into park design. Programmatic Land Use and Community Development Public Health Cities and Counties Local and Regional Parks and Recreation Departments Urban Greening Grant Program Urban and Community Forestry Program Grants AB 31 – Park Poor Communities Program Safeguarding California: 2018 Update City of Los Angeles: 50 Parks Initiative
Drought, extreme heat Strategy PRC-5: Coordinate with owners of winter recreation areas and water recreation areas to support additional recreational activities that are less dependent on snowpack and water levels. Changing snowpack conditions and precipitation patterns may force snow and water recreation sites to support alternative recreational opportunities. Local governments should coordinate with the owners of these sites to ensure that they can remain economically viable and help sustain the local economy and workforce. Alternative forms of recreation could include biking and hiking trails on skiing mountains during the summer season, or ropes courses and other alternative recreational activities at water recreation sites. Ski resorts often make their own snow in winters that do not provide enough natural snow to sustain skiing. Local government should encourage ski resort owners to estimate future energy demand for snow-making activities and to install renewable energy generation and energy storage systems to accommodate this demand. Education, Outreach, Coordination Operational Water Land Use and Community Development Cities and Counties Prop 68 – State of California Parks and Water Bond 2018 Placer County Sustainability Plan (2020)
Extreme heat Strategy PRC-6: Install refillable water stations at parks, trailheads, community centers, and sport courts/fields with available water supplies to encourage proper hydration and protection against heat-related illnesses. Extreme heat events may not deter people from hiking, biking, and participating in other outdoor recreational activities. However, local governments should make sure that parks and recreational areas adequate water supply and water refill stations. This can reduce heat stress, heat stroke, and dehydration during periods of extreme heat. When installing water refill stations, local governments should provide education signage in multiple languages to enable visitors to understand how to prevent heat related illnesses. Local governments can also consider providing free insect repellent at outdoor recreation facilities. This can help prevent vector-borne illnesses from mosquitoes and ticks from spreading. Capital Improvement& Infrastructure Projects Education, Outreach, Coordination Public Health Cities and Counties California Department of Parks and Recreation California Natural Resources Agency Placer County Sustainability Plan (2020)
All climate hazards Strategy PRC-7: Educate community members about the climate risks to historic, cultural, and tribal cultural resources, and the need to safeguard these cultural resources. Protecting cultural and tribal cultural resources is important for many Californians, but it is still helpful to reinforce their importance, particularly as climate change stressors damage these resources or compel relocation. In partnership with tribal nations and community-based organizations, jurisdictions should educate community members of all ages about why it is necessary to safeguard historical and tribal cultural resources in their area. These educational and outreach efforts can often be integrated into existing programs, which can make them easier to implement. Consider what types of education programs could be most effective in the community. This can include interpretive signage and in-person educational events at historic or culturally significant sites, online resources and information on social media, outreach to community groups and stakeholders, and volunteer opportunities. Multiple forms of outreach would likely be helpful. Ensure that educational programs are widely accessible to the community, including persons with different income levels and access to resources, who speak different languages, and who have differing levels of ability. Ensure that educational efforts reflect historic, cultural, and tribal cultural resources as well as the most recent and best available science, which may require revisions to outreach approaches as scientific understanding evolves. Communities should also ensure that educational efforts are universally accessible, including to people with access and functional needs. Education, Outreach, Coordination Programmatic Biodiversity and Habitat Cities and Counties Community-Based Organizations Tribal Nations Cultural, Community and Natural Resources Grant Program

Featured State Resources

All Resources for Parks And Recreation