Educate for Access

It’s probably safe to assume that at one point or another you’ve arrived at a climbing area and found music blaring, bits of tape on the ground, tick marks, social trails all over the place, or a group of 15 climbers taking up an entire area with their gear thrown about. More and more, we’ve been hearing the same sentiments: “What’s going on at our climbing areas?” and “What does the Access Fund plan to do about climber education?”

Climber education is a broad topic--covering safety, route development, stewardship, and etiquette. Education, especially stewardship and etiquette, has always been a core part of our mission--we’ve been producing and distributing materials for over 20 years. However, with the needs of the climbing community growing, we knew it was time for us to step up. We took a huge step forward at our 2-day Educate for Access summit this past November in the Gunks. The summit clearly brought to light that climber education needs focused, relevant, regionally specific and nationally recognized leadership.

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We had 46 influencers from across the nation join the conversation, including climbing gym owners, land managers, professional guides, leaders from local climbing organizations, education professionals, and even a few pro-climbers. Gathered together under the same roof, we shared presentations on the current conditions at our climbing areas, who the current climbing population really is, where they are coming from, what it actually means to modify someone’s behavior, and the types of education techniques currently in use.

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With 12 informative presentations, over two days, it’s easy to see some commonalities and strong themes repeat themselves. With the ever-growing industry and popularity of indoor climbing, gyms are an ideal space to reach more climbers; climbing gyms are the common link almost all climbers share. The Access Fund sees indoor facilities as a great starting point for education, and we will work to strengthen relationships between climbing gyms, local climbing organizations, and land managers, as well as develop specific messages for transitioning climbers.

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The explosion in climbing facilities is a crucial link in the education chain, as young and impressionable climbers will play a crucial role in keeping our climbing areas open and preserving the climbing environment in the future. Climbers, spanning the ages of 11-25, possess the greatest potential for positive change. Not only do these climbers crave social acceptance, but they also crave leadership and structured messages. If they begin to hear about the “right” behaviors now, they’ll want to carry them into the future. Dialogue throughout the summit highlighted the simple fact that younger climbers want to do the right thing, they just haven’t been told or experienced what that is.

The Educate for Access summit was only the first step in addressing new educational needs that can improve stewardship and protection of our climbing areas. The summit gave us a much better understanding of the challenges and opportunities, and connected us to a greater community of partners who are facing the same challenges and are passionate about finding solutions. In the coming months, we’ll be rolling out new tactics to grow and strengthen our education programs.

Take a look at this article from our friends at Rock and Ice for more information on the changing demographics of climbers in the US.

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