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Coping with Climate Change: A Study of Great Lakes Water-Based Recreationists

Michael D. Ferguson, J. Tom Mueller, Alan R. Graefe, Andrew J. Mowen


A multitude of unique year-to-year ecological variations within the Great Lakes basin have been attributed to climate change. These variations include the number and intensity of storms, the volume of water flowing within the watershed, the water quality, the average height of lake levels, and the intensity of waves that strike the coastline (Parry, 2007). Yet, the impact of these changing environmental conditions upon water-based outdoor recreation users remains unclear. While climate change exacerbated environmental conditions are becoming progressively evident to both recreationists and resource managers (NPCA, 2009), few studies have sought to assess the extent to which environmental conditions alter outdoor recreation behaviors. This study examined water-based outdoor recreation visitors’ perceptions and coping responses associated with water quality conditions affected by climate change on Lake Erie (n= 284). It used a modified version of the stress-coping model (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984) to examine the relationships between water quality impact, water quality awareness, and coping. Study results indicated that the more visitors identified water quality as a negative impact on their overall experience, the more aware they were of water quality conditions. Further, the more aware visitors were of water quality conditions, the more they found the need to employ coping responses. From a resource management standpoint, a central concept for maintaining high quality outdoor recreation experiences is the identification of visitor resource perceptions and related impacts (Manning, 2011). Study findings confirmed visitors’ perceptions of water quality impacts and awareness resulted in the employment of both cognitive and behavioral coping mechanisms that could be accounted for in future management decisions.

From a theoretical perspective, this study took the work of Iwasaki and Schneider (2003), Miller and McCool (2003), Schneider and Hammitt (1995), Schuster et al. (2006), and Propst (2008) to the next logical step in the investigation of environmental conditions and coping within recreational settings. It went beyond determining perceptions of environmental conditions and attempted to determine if the impact and awareness of environmental conditions influenced the employment of coping mechanisms. The relationships provided support for advancing the outdoor recreation coping literature by applying coping as a response to environmental conditions.

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Outdoor Recreation; Great Lakes; Water Quality; Coping; Environmental Impact

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