Pay to Play?

Categories: Perspectives

You're heading to Indian Creek on a cool November weekend. The weather is splitter as you cruise through Moab to fill up your tank and head for your favorite spot at the Creek Pasture campground. The last couple of times you’ve been there, you’ve noticed the improvements in the area—a new shelter, a group site, vault toilets, picnic tables, and a new kiosk at the campground entrance. This time you pull in, and there’s a sign informing you that it’s time to pay.

Indian Creek, one of the most popular rock climbing destinations in the United States

A camp fee? In Indian Creek?!

This isn’t today’s reality, but could be one day soon. And it’s not just Indian Creek. Places like Joe’s Valley and Ten Sleep are faced with the same issues. And fees have also increased at Yosemite National Park and Joshua Tree National Park.

So what’s the deal? Why the increases in fees, and why are places that have always been free all of the sudden charging a fee?

As the popularity of climbing continues to increase and more and more climbers flock to our crags and boulder fields, land management agencies like the BLM, US Forest Service, and National Park Service are compelled to manage the impacts that we bring with us. Human waste, plant degradation, cultural resource protections, and overall visitor experiences are major concerns that they are legally obligated to manage.

Climbing is no longer a fringe activity, and our swelling numbers require more facilities and infrastructure—like campgrounds and vault toilets. And these facilities come at a cost. A single vault toilet can cost up to $30,000 for installation, not including annual costs of maintenance, pumping, and stocking toilet paper. And campgrounds require regular cleanup and maintenance. As federal land management budgets continue to get squeezed, the only way to cover the majority of these costs is to ask the users to contribute.

Increased fees are never easy to swallow. But it’s a small price to pay to protect the integrity of our climbing areas so that they don’t become overrun with trash, human waste, erosion, and a multitude of other issues.

So over the coming years, as you roll in to your favorite climbing destinations and encounter fees, remember that the overwhelming majority of this money covers the restrooms, camping facilities, sustainable trails, information kiosks, and improved parking areas that are necessary to manage our impacts and protect our climbing resources into the future.