Access Fund Wants Your Input on NPS Fixed Anchor Proposal

Date: 2/2/2011

The National Park Service has released an updated draft of its wilderness management policies. The update covers a wide range of topics including provisions specific to climbing fixed anchors. Iconic climbing areas in the U.S.—including Yosemite, Zion, Black Canyon, and Rocky Mountain national parks—would be governed by this new policy. The Access Fund is soliciting input from the climbing community to inform our policy position on this critically important issue. Please take a moment to read our summary of the major take-aways of the proposed NPS policy, the history of the fixed anchor debate, and the Access Fund's advocacy strategy below -- then take the survey!

Important Elements of the Proposed Policy
The proposed policy acknowledges that "climbing is in many cases a legitimate and appropriate use of wilderness" and that each park with significant wilderness climbing activities must prepare a climbing management plan. However, the policy calls for climbing to be restricted or prohibited if unacceptable impacts to wilderness resources or character occur.

This proposed policy recognizes that the occasional placement of a fixed anchor for belay, rappel, or protection purposes does not necessarily impair wilderness, but it requires prior authorization for the placement of new fixed anchors (replacements or removals may also require park approval). The requirements and process for authorization are to be laid out in each park's climbing management plan. The practical outcome of this proposed policy is that climbers would need a permit or some other authorization prior to the hand placement of new bolts in any national park wilderness area. Most national parks currently do not require such prior-approval.

Background on the Issue
It is important to view this proposed policy in the context of the last 20+ years of advocacy and uncertainty surrounding technical climbing in federal wilderness areas. In the mid 1990's, the future of fixed anchors in federal wilderness was uncertain—an outright ban seemed imminent on US Forest Service managed wilderness. Some user groups, notably mountain bikers, have been categorically banned from wilderness areas. In light of this, the NPS's acknowledgement that "climbing is in many cases a legitimate and appropriate use of wilderness" and that the “occasional placement of a fixed anchor “ is not incompatible with wilderness is significant.

The Access Fund believes that some level of fixed anchor use must be allowed wherever climbing is allowed, and that the appropriate level of use should be established on an area-by-area basis. The government has authority under the Wilderness Act to permit fixed anchors in wilderness, and this use should be permitted as climbing is one of the unique recreation opportunities wilderness is intended to provide. The continued use of fixed anchors, if properly managed, will not degrade wilderness resources and values. The use of motorized equipment, including power drills, is prohibited in wilderness.

Please take a moment to review a background document the Access Fund has prepared for the benefit of the climbing community, which includes our general position statement on fixed anchors. You may also read the text of the draft Director’s Order. If you need to brush up on your understanding of the Wilderness Act, you can do so here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilderness_Act.

Advocacy Strategy
The Access Fund recently met with a range of climbing advocates (including the American Alpine Club and the American Mountain Guides Association) and members of the outdoor industry to consider the current NPS proposal and develop a joint position statement with recommended modifications to the draft policy. An important part of our advocacy on this issue will be shaped by the specific opinions and ideas from individuals in the climbing community.

Please take a few minutes to let us know your thoughts through the following set of survey questions. If you would prefer to share your thoughts in a letter, feel free to send an email to [email protected] We will use the comments we receive to inform our final policy position and recommended changes to the Director's Order. We will issue an action alert in mid-February, which will include an Access Fund position statement and an easy letter-writing tool for climbers to submit their own comments directly to the NPS. Thank you for your time and comments!