Climbers: A Growing Economic Force

From an economic perspective, climbers are ideal outdoor-adventure tourists: We visit our favorite climbing areas again and again, stay for days or weeks on end, and we often have disposable income. In other words, we have a positive economic impact wherever we go—and that's good for climbing access.

Visiting climbers spend money on food, camping, gear, guidebooks, gas, lodging—all of which have a positive impact on local economies. Photo courtesy of © Andrew Burr

Picture your local crag. Pull up on a nice weekend, and the parking lot is full of cars with both in- and out-of-state plates. You walk up to the crag and count a few dozen climbers, and you pass a few more groups as you walk to your route of choice. There could be 50 or more people at the cliff. Each one of these climbers spent money on food, gas, lodging, and so forth.

“When people understand our spending power, they’re ready to listen and learn more about the positives climbing can bring to their community,” explains Access Fund Southeast Regional Director Zachary Lesch-Huie. “The question changes from ‘Can we even allow climbing?’ to ‘Where can we open new areas, and what can we do to improve the climbing resource?’ It’s a big shift.”

Access Fund is leading an effort to uncover just how much of a positive impact climbers are having on local economies—especially rural, economically distressed communities. Many of our most popular, highly valued climbing areas are located in places where the economic boost created by outdoor tourism is critical. Take the Red River Gorge, home to world-class climbing, and also to some of the poorest counties in the country. Climber spending brings an annual $3.8 million to the area, which in turn creates jobs and economic opportunity.

And it's not just the Red. The most recent study, completed by researchers from Eastern Kentucky University in 2019, found that climbers impacted a three-county region around the New River Gorge of West Virginia to the tune of $12.1 million a year. In Western North Carolina, climbing in Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest brings in nearly $14 million. Another study found that climbers spend nearly $7 million annually in the Chattanooga area. Other iconic climbing areas like Red Rock Canyon, just outside Las Vegas, bring in serious tourist dollars, too.

This growing body of research is showing that climbing is good for the economy. Economic-impact data is critical to helping Access Fund and local climbing organizations advocate for access and conservation opportunities. It shows landowners and local officials the value climbing can bring to local communities. The more we can show that climbers spend money, support businesses, and create jobs, the more secure our access will be.

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