LCO Pro: Biggest Challenges and Accomplishments

Categories: LCO 101

Whether you’re a volunteer leader or a full-time paid staffer, leading a local climbing organization (LCO) is full of highs and lows. You have to be versatile. You have to listen to and balance a lot of input from your board and the wider climbing community. One day you may be celebrating the opening of a new climbing area, the next you’re putting out fires with a frustrated land manager—all while trying to get your monthly newsletter out. And the quest to secure funding never ends. There’s a lot we can learn from each other, and these LCO Pros share the tough challenges they’re tackling, alongside the big wins they’re helping to score for their local climbing areas and community.

Meet the LCO Pros

In the first installment of this series we introduced you to the new crop of paid LCO staffers—a growing trend to support larger, more sustainable LCO operations.
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Andrea Hassler, Executive Director, Southeastern Climbers Coalition

Challenge: I’m still relatively new to this region and organization, so I have to do a lot of digging to uncover the history of access issues and beta on specific areas. That said, our community is so strong that I have a list of folks I can turn to for answers. On an organizational level, we’re currently challenged by a significant decrease in donations, corporate sponsorships, and grants, as a direct result of the impacts of the COVID pandemic. It’s hitting both personal and professional wallets.

Accomplishment: One thing that I’m really psyched about is bringing on our second full-time employee, Dana Passman, as our stewardship and outreach coordinator. For the past few years, SCC hired a contract employee to lead our stewardship and trail projects, meaning they were working only on funded projects and nothing else. This step has allowed us to significantly increase our capacity, improving our presence in all three of the states we work in.

Kate Beezley, Executive Director, Boulder Climbing Community

Challenge: Our organization is currently transitioning out of its initial founding stage into a more professionalized model. To put it simply, we are moving away from talking over beers in a conference room to having staff reports and well-organized agendas. There are growing pains associated with this transition.

Accomplishment: It is so basic, and everyone laughs when I say it, but we have started advocating for and installing porta-potties at popular climbing areas. Traditionally, we’d put wag bag stations in, spending thousands of dollars on bags a year, but there is so much associated waste that it wasn’t as sustainable. A porta-potty is only a couple hundred dollars for an entire season—and sometimes the land manager is willing to foot the bill. So, everyone should look into porta-potties as a solution.

Mike Reardon, Executive Director, Carolina Climbers Coalition

Challenge: Effectively communicating the depth of our work to our members and stakeholders is an ongoing challenge. We do so much on-the-ground work and partnership building that reporting that out is often an afterthought. Our next big challenge will certainly be fundraising during the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. We have so many exciting projects to take on right now, but having the financial backing to support these will be even more of a challenge in the coming year. Grants are beginning to dry up, and we will need to rely more heavily on our membership base for project funding. We also rely heavily on in-person events for fundraising but have had to cancel several of those and transition to an online format.

Accomplishment: I’m especially proud of our volunteer stewards program. In 2019, we logged 4,000 hours of on-the-ground stewardship, by nearly 700 volunteers serving crags and boulder fields throughout the Carolinas and a bit of Virginia. This work included replacing 531 rotten bolts and largely reusing existing holes, building 2.15 miles of sustainable trail, maintaining 6.75 miles of existing trail, removing 81 graffiti tags, and opening two new climbing areas. This stewardship work is so important because it brings our community together, builds relationships with landowners, and creates more sustainable access for future generations.

Lauren Heerschap, Executive Director, Central Wyoming Climbers’ Alliance

Challenge: Other than the current financial uncertainties, we are also challenged to formulate a Climbing Management Plan (CMP) with the Shoshone National Forest. Our neighboring forests—Bighorn and Bitterroot—are dealing with some very restrictive CMPs, and there isn’t yet a national climbing management template for the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to follow. We hope to work with Access Fund and USFS personnel on a plan that will serve as a good model for other groups to follow. This is a daunting process, as it formalizes how climbing, bolting, trails, base areas, and everything else gets done in the region, well into the future. We have a strong, cohesive local climbing community, a very competent board and Access & Advocacy subcommittee, and a good relationship with the USFS, so I am confident that we can arrive at an effective management plan that meets everyone’s needs.

Accomplishment: I definitely can’t take full credit for this, but we’ve been able to get a vault toilet approved and funded for the Aspen Glades parking and camping area of Wild Iris. Conversations with the USFS had been happening for several years prior to my leadership, and I made it a priority when I stepped into the role. Rather than seeking funding for additional studies to prove the need for a toilet, which everyone already seemed to recognize, I pushed to move the project forward by meeting with USFS and advocating first for fencing to contain the dispersed camping area and stop the spread of vegetation removal and damage. We were able to successfully fundraise $20,000 last year, with the help of the Lander Community Foundation and the Climbers’ Festival, and the toilet was installed in June. While this is a camping and parking area that is used by multiple groups, climbers are the main users, and we have stepped up to provide an important resource for the entire outdoor community as a show of our desire to be good stewards of the environment and to help protect a precious area from degradation and potential closure.

One of the Greatest Threats to Climbing Today

If you’ve ever participated in a forest-planning process, you know how tricky it can be to make sure climbing is fairly represented. Take a deep dive into how the lack of U.S. Forest Service climbing guidelines endangers our sport.
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