​Protecting Public Lands Isn’t a Fight Won on Capitol Hill

Categories: Perspectives , Community

The climbing community has stepped up in the fight for America’s public lands, home to nearly 60% of our climbing areas. You have written letters to lawmakers, given generous donations, signed petitions, attended rallies, and made a lot of noise in support of the lands you love. We are so very grateful for every one of those actions. With a new incoming Congress and a shifting Administration, the threats to public lands are evolving almost daily, and we remain vigilant in our efforts to protect these spectacular places.

But...in the heat of this very high-profile public lands battle, another insidious threat to climbing has been going mostly unnoticed. Yet it grows larger and more overwhelming every day: Our climbing areas are falling apart. I expect you’ve heard us making noise on this topic over the last few months, and perhaps you’ve read the articles: America’s Deteriorating Climbing Areas, 10 Climbing Areas in Crisis, Climbing Areas Loved to Death.

Make no mistake, this climbing stewardship crisis is real. And it’s big. If you love public lands, here’s why you need to care:

  1. Our public lands aren’t just at risk from lawmakers in DC. In many places around the country, we are loving our climbing areas to death. And land managers are taking notice. Every year, Access Fund sees public climbing areas restricted or closed due to unmanageable impacts from the climbing community. Take Hueco Tanks in Texas: the State Park closed much of the park to bouldering and restricted access because the everyday impacts from climbers grew to be more than the land and cultural resources could handle. It was simply our love and over-use of this area that overwhelmed it to the point that the land manager had to restrict access to protect the environment.
  2. True “protection” of public lands is not a fight that is won in the Capitol. Keeping public lands public is only part of the battle. As climbing advocates, we must take the fight from the steps of the capitol all the way to our local crags and boulders. True protection of these places means making sure that they are well cared for and can sustainably handle our recreation activities. Our job is not over once we’ve secured access. The other half of the battle lies in restoring and preparing these climbing areas so they don’t buckle under the impacts of our growing climbing community.
  3. We own these public lands—their care is our shared responsibility. You own a piece of all public lands in this country, and we are fighting to protect that American birthright. But with that right comes responsibility. We all need to chip in to preserve these amazing places—especially when climbers are impacting a place.

The fight in DC is all for naught if we don’t care for and protect the integrity of our climbing environments. And this is a fight that impacts more than just public lands—it impacts every single climbing area in the country, including those located on private lands. Access Fund and local climbing organizations all across the country are working to restore our climbing areas. But we need more resources.

Tell Land Managers: Let Climbers Tackle Stewardship

Land managers often lack the funding and expertise to fix growing impacts, and getting through the red tape to put a shovel in the ground is their biggest obstacle. There are several bills and initiatives being drafted now that will streamline approvals for public lands, and we need your help to show land managers a groundswell of support from climbers.
Sign the Petition

Restore Our Climbing Areas: A Plan for the Future

Most climbing areas in this country were developed quietly, by an adventurous few, in a time when the sport was relatively obscure. They were never designed by experts as actual recreation sites, with infrastructure to protect the environment. This wasn’t a problem when the cliffs and boulders saw few visitors, but our climbing population has increased dramatically, and our climbing areas are buckling under the weight. Access Fund and local climbing organizations across the country need additional resources to prepare our climbing areas for the increased traffic of our growing climbing population. We are currently raising funds to help address these issues, with the following objectives.

  • A nationwide inventory of climbing area needs & stewardship plans. We need to expand our efforts to assess climbing areas across the country, document urgent needs, identify future concerns and opportunities, and develop comprehensive stewardship plans. Each climbing area is unique and needs its own documented stewardship plan in order to obtain land manager approval, prepare for environmental review processes, and secure funding. These plans include prescribed infrastructure needs, management tools, implementation timelines, and maintenance objectives.
  • Strengthen the Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team program. We already have 3 teams of trailbuilders/conservation specialists on the road for 10 months of the year helping local climbing communities address stewardship challenges. But the demands placed on these teams far outpace their current capacity. With additional support, we’ll be able to tackle more large-scale projects, train more advocates, leverage more volunteers, expand project scopes, and reach more communities in need.
  • Grow the Climbing Conservation Grants Program to empower locals. Right now, Access Fund awards $40,000 a year in grant funds to local climbing organizations and volunteers tackling access and stewardship projects in their local communities. This fund is not nearly large enough to tackle the critical need. If we could double the grant fund in 2019, it would double our positive impact on the ground.
  • Deepen our climber outreach and education initiatives. Many climbers lack the knowledge that there is a real problem, or that threats to climbing access even exist. We must expand our education and outreach to reach more climbers and help them understand how to limit their impacts.
  • Increase support for local climbing organizations. For decades our most important local partner in stewardship work has been local climbing organizations. Every year we work with local volunteers and groups to support hundreds of Adopt a Crag trail days, and dozens of Conservation Team projects. Access Fund needs to expand services to our network of 120 local climbing organizations, offer more trainings in strategic stewardship planning, technical field skills, fundraising, and community outreach to increase their capacity to tackle large-scale stewardship initiatives.
  • Further partnerships with land managers. Access Fund needs greater capacity to expand and deepen partnerships with public land management agencies. These relationships are the starting point for collaborative stewardship initiatives, ensuring science-based climbing management that allows continued access and ensures our climbing areas are ready to handle the growing population.

Blog by Erik Murdock, Access Fund Policy Director. Erik leads the Access Fund's policy and advocacy program, working with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and with land managers around the country to protect climbing on our public lands.