Tourism is one of the largest economic drivers in Wisconsin. In the capital city of Madison—which happens to be one of only two U.S. cities on an isthmus—tourism thrives, thanks to a lake-city-lake landscape that offers four seasons of outdoor recreation opportunities.  

But as the climate continues to warm, rising temperatures are changing and shifting the seasons for outdoor pursuits according to the most recent report from the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI).  

“Communities need help diversifying tourism offerings, as well as preparing for and responding to extreme weather as seasons shift due to climate change,” says Dea Larsen Converse, Communications Director for WICCI. 

Larsen notes that warming temperatures may extend the time frame for many recreational activities in Madison—including hiking and biking during fall color season—giving the state a competitive advantage compared to places that can become uncomfortably hot during warmer seasons. In fact, the capital city was recently featured as a “climate-haven” in a CBS Sunday Morning segment highlighting Madison as one of the safest cities to visit among the worsening extremes of climate change. But reduced snowfall and ice cover on the lakes in winter affects migration patterns and habitat availability for many species tied to recreational tourism opportunities such as fishing or wildlife watching. 

“As the tourism entity for our capital city, we take our role in promoting environmental stewardship seriously,” says Ellie Westman Chin, President & CEO of Destination Madison. “We want to welcome as many visitors as possible each year, but our focus is on the long game: to protect the natural beauty of our city.” 

For both organizations, planning ahead for future climate impacts is key to ensuring the tourism industry remains strong. The WICCI Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Working Group recommends that all communities diversify tourism opportunities, taking actions such as adjusting recreational trails to protect access and reducing the risk of harmful algal blooms.  

“We’re proud that so many of our partners offer free experiences to enjoy ecological trails, clean lakes, green buildings and sustainably sourced menus,” says Westman Chin. “Each illustrates Madison’s mindset about the future of tourism amid climate change.” 

Click through the slide show below to learn how Destination Madison partners are working to provide opportunities to entertain—and educate—visitors and residents via sustainable tourism opportunities.

Voluntourism Opportunities in Madison

Arboretum entrance sign near Henry Vilas Zoo

Free for exploring and filled with activities to deepen understanding about ecology and sustainability. It’s a place where an intentional focus on learning, land care, research and reflection ensure it will forever be a protected place for all to enjoy.

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An aerial photo of the Madison skyline from Lake Monona

This non-profit organization is dedicated to the restoration and protection of lakes, streams and wetlands. From educational events to hands-on volunteer opportunities, there’s always a way to help ensure our lakes can be enjoyed year-round.

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A girl stands on a jungle gym outside of the Madison Children's Museum

At the top of this four-floor exploratorium is a rooftop garden: proof that you can grow in small spaces. In a city. Inside, you’ll find Little John’s Lunchbox, a self-serve, pay-what-you-can deli that diverts food that would normally go to the landfill to fill little tummies instead.

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A view of Monona Terrace from Lake Monona. The sky is clear and sunny and a reflection of the building at its larger arched windows can be seen in the lake water.

Since this Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece opened in 1997, it has earned Platinum LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its whole-building approach to sustainability. Its 6,800 square feet of rooftop gardens attract important pollinators and also help re-seed other City of Madison greenspaces.

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