Access Fund Represents Climbers in Washington, DC

Date: 3/15/2011

In early March Access Fund representatives traveled to Washington, DC to advocate for climber interests on a number of pressing issues. The Access Fund’s trip focused primarily on longstanding issues that are finally coming to a head: National Park Service mountaineering fees and policies for managing fixed anchors in wilderness. Executive Director Brady Robinson and Policy Director Jason Keith met with Assistant Interior Department Secretary Will Shafroth, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, and several Congressional offices with Park Service oversight responsibility to ensure that climber interests were heard, and that fair and appropriate policies were designed and implemented for climbing in national parks. Among other meetings, the Access Fund also met the US Forest Service on new protocols for recreation planning and management in national forests.

Faced with an unprecedented 150% fee increase for mountaineering at Denali National Park, as well as potential climbing fee increases at other National Parks, the Access Fund came to the U.S. capital seeking ways for the Park Service to limit its costs instead just increasing revenues to pay for current programs. “We don’t want to see Denali turn into a Mount Everest—a mountain only the wealthy can afford to climb,” said Access Fund Executive Director Brady Robinson. “At a time when we are encouraging Americans to become more fit and lead healthier lifestyles, our parks should be open to all Americans at the lowest cost possible. In fact, that’s what the law stipulates. We will do our part to accept appropriate fees in places, but the government must do its part to be as efficient and effective as possible—especially in this economy.” See the AF’s position on Denali fee increase.

The National Park Service is also revising its wilderness management policies including provisions related to climbing and the use of fixed anchors. The longstanding management issue, which will affect the crown jewels of US climbing such as Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, and Zion national parks, has for decades led to confusion among both land managers and climbers regarding whether the Wilderness Act permits or restricts the use of fixed anchors. The draft Park Service policy revision has the potential to solve this protracted and complicated problem, but the Access Fund talked with Congress and Park Service officials about some specific changes climbers would like to see that would limit unnecessary restrictions on climbers and minimize the administrative burden on local park managers.

The Access Fund’s recent meetings continue our multi-year relationships with many of the leading policy makers in the DC world of public lands management. Many members of Congress recognize our concerns related to increasing mountaineering fees, including Colorado’s Senator Udall, chair of the National Parks Subcommittee who reviewed our official comment letters and submitted them on our behalf to the Park Service. With respect to wilderness fixed anchors, our position is widely accepted by the climbing community, outdoor industry, and national advocacy groups that support national parks and wilderness. And indications are that the Park Service is receptive to our suggestions for balancing appropriate fixed anchor use with necessary resource protection without creating a bureaucratic nightmare for everyone. Stay tuned Access Fund’s Vertical Times, Enews, and Action Alerts for updates on our policy in Washington, DC and around the country.

Thanks to everyone who offered their comments on these important issues, and thanks too to our friends at the American Alpine Club and the American Mountain Guides Association for their support.