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Access Fund Wants Your Input on NPS Fixed Anchor Proposal

The National Park Service has released an updated draft of its wilderness management policies. The update covers a wide range of topics including provisions specific to climbing fixed anchors. Iconic climbing areas in the U.S.—including Yosemite, Zion, Black Canyon, and Rocky Mountain national parks—would be governed by this new policy. The Access Fund is soliciting input from the climbing community to inform our policy position on this critically important issue. Please take a moment to read our summary of the major take-aways of the proposed NPS policy, the history of the fixed anchor debate, and the Access Fund's advocacy strategy below -- then take the survey!

Important Elements of the Proposed Policy
The proposed policy acknowledges that "climbing is in many cases a legitimate and appropriate use of wilderness" and that each park with significant wilderness climbing activities must prepare a climbing management plan. However, the policy calls for climbing to be restricted or prohibited if unacceptable impacts to wilderness resources or character occur.

This proposed policy recognizes that the occasional placement of a fixed anchor for belay, rappel, or protection purposes does not necessarily impair wilderness, but it requires prior authorization for the placement of new fixed anchors (replacements or removals may also require park approval). The requirements and process for authorization are to be laid out in each park's climbing management plan. The practical outcome of this proposed policy is that climbers would need a permit or some other authorization prior to the hand placement of new bolts in any national park wilderness area. Most national parks currently do not require such prior-approval.

Background on the Issue
It is important to view this proposed policy in the context of the last 20+ years of advocacy and uncertainty surrounding technical climbing in federal wilderness areas. In the mid 1990's, the future of fixed anchors in federal wilderness was uncertain—an outright ban seemed imminent on US Forest Service managed wilderness. Some user groups, notably mountain bikers, have been categorically banned from wilderness areas. In light of this, the NPS's acknowledgement that "climbing is in many cases a legitimate and appropriate use of wilderness" and that the “occasional placement of a fixed anchor “ is not incompatible with wilderness is significant.

The Access Fund believes that some level of fixed anchor use must be allowed wherever climbing is allowed, and that the appropriate level of use should be established on an area-by-area basis. The government has authority under the Wilderness Act to permit fixed anchors in wilderness, and this use should be permitted as climbing is one of the unique recreation opportunities wilderness is intended to provide. The continued use of fixed anchors, if properly managed, will not degrade wilderness resources and values. The use of motorized equipment, including power drills, is prohibited in wilderness.

Please take a moment to review a background document the Access Fund has prepared for the benefit of the climbing community, which includes our general position statement on fixed anchors. You may also read the text of the draft Director’s Order. If you need to brush up on your understanding of the Wilderness Act, you can do so here:

Advocacy Strategy
The Access Fund recently met with a range of climbing advocates (including the American Alpine Club and the American Mountain Guides Association) and members of the outdoor industry to consider the current NPS proposal and develop a joint position statement with recommended modifications to the draft policy. An important part of our advocacy on this issue will be shaped by the specific opinions and ideas from individuals in the climbing community.

Please take a few minutes to let us know your thoughts through the following set of survey questions. If you would prefer to share your thoughts in a letter, feel free to send an email to We will use the comments we receive to inform our final policy position and recommended changes to the Director's Order. We will issue an action alert in mid-February, which will include an Access Fund position statement and an easy letter-writing tool for climbers to submit their own comments directly to the NPS. Thank you for your time and comments!



Date: 2/2/2011

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Anonymous @ 2/3/2011 10:00:43 AM 
I have to wonder, is the key aim of this policy to limit the expansion of climbing areas in lands managed by the NPS? Or, is it honestly to prevent a handful holes from being set into the rock? Growth is an entirely different management issue than maintenance. Let's be realistic so that we can actually address whatever the real issue is here.
We all know that certain risks are inherent to climbing and each climber needs to act responsibly to minimize those risks... if that includes repairing, replacing, or adding the occasional piece of fixed gear, then that will probably continue to happen, with or without a permit.
Furthermore, the establishment of new permitting policies not only limits the personal responsibility of the individual climber but also puts more onus on the NPS as a regulatory force--an agency that is already strapped for resources and stuck with a frozen budget, as is.
Anonymous @ 2/3/2011 10:00:55 AM 
This is something that cannot and will not be instituted equally across varying parks, due to limited personnel and depending upon each park's existing relationship with the climbing community.
If peregrine falcons are fledging right now, temporarily close the route. If the northern spotted owl is nesting, close the area for a while. But let us, please, refrain from initiating NEPA compliance (or whatever act of bureaucracy will be required) every time a route needs to be maintained. In the meanwhile, when climbing on NPS land -or anywhere, really- keep your voices to a minimum, stay on the trail (or fan out if there is no trail), be a Mensch and keep your wilderness ethic with you when you climb. Otherwise, we'll end up like the mountain bikers and off-road vehicle recreationers--an 'endangered species' in the national parks.
Anonymous @ 2/8/2011 2:09:13 PM 
I believe that the real issue that the NPS is trying to get at is maintaining the Wilderness characteristics that are outlined in the Wilderness Act of 1964. One of the main ideas that is at the heart of that act is that Wilderness should be 'untrammeled.' This means, basically, that a Wilderness should not have evidence of man's intentional attempts to 'tame' or restrict the wildness of the place. In my honest opinion, when I am in a Wilderness area and I see a line of bolts it takes away from my Wilderness experience. It is my opinion that if you are going to climb in a Wilderness area you should do so in a fashion that is characteristic of being untamed, unrestricted, and does not alter the landscape. Bolts are man's attempt to make climbing more accessible, and more convenient. If you can't climb a line in Wilderness without bolts, maybe it is best left unclimbed.
Anonymous @ 2/8/2011 2:20:50 PM 
You may want to go over what is going on in JTNP regarding anchors and see how that works...other models can be usefull.
Anonymous @ 2/8/2011 3:36:53 PM 
I'd have to agree with comment #1
The point raised about using this negotiated rule making procedure as a defacto moratorium on bolting in the letter signed by the Outdoor Industry has merit, because climbers have seen the the BLM and Forest/Park Service drag their heels on the issue.
I agree climbers alone should determine when and where a bolt may be necessary for climbing safety. Bolting properly is a relatively costly and time consuming activity. Significant peer pressure already exists within the climbing communities which constrain participants from bolting irresponsibly.

Anonymous @ 2/8/2011 3:37:13 PM 
A simple uniform guideline registration/permit process on area by area basis may be a remedy for those climbers who wish to come forward. From a mechanical point of view, in my opinion, a bolt placed with a power drill is sounder, safer and has more life span than a hand drilled placement. Registrants should be permitted to use a cordless impact hammer as a benefit of coming public.
Anonymous @ 2/9/2011 10:05:12 AM 
I think the policy should clarify what criterion can be used to make decisions. Without clear guidelines it would be left at the discretion of each park management. This policy change would force additional paperwork for climbers with completely arbitrary results in each park.

Also policy should allow for the replacement of existing fixed anchors when they become a life threatening danger.
Anonymous @ 2/11/2011 2:27:40 AM 
I don't see how bolts or fixed anchors are any different from trail signs or blazes on trees. They definitely remind us that we aren't technically in the wilderness but they also help us enjoy it safely. Cutting back brush on an overgrown trail vs. replacing bolts on a popular climb, I see no difference. A trail, a climb, whatever it is, we will impact the wilderness around it; that's inevitable. In my mind the bolts aren't the problem, it's the people that use them. I don't think we should go crazy with bolts, especially on lines that can be protected with traditional gear. But at the same time, bolts impact almost nothing. They don't contaminate the soil, animals won't eat them, they aren't going in the water, they are however, keeping climbers safe.
Also, if we can put in a bolt, why not do it with a power drill? It takes less time and as someone else already said, its safer. If we are going to need a permit for it anyway, why not allow the power drill?
Anonymous @ 2/15/2011 9:43:50 PM 
Don't be in a hurry to request permission to use power drills in NWA's. Prohibition against motorized vehicles & tools has long been a fundamental tenet of the Act. You'll see young folks buck-sawing 5' blowdown trunks because no chain saws are permitted. Are we different?
Anonymous @ 2/16/2011 12:44:45 PM 
we have to understand that wilderness is not simply about recreation. It is to preserve those special areas that have gained this federal status, not just for the use of climbers or hikers or backpackers, but to prevent degradation to wildlife habitat and to the beauty of the area itself. Putting bolts in many is not only unnecessary but would only bring more people to these areas that may not appreciate them or treat them properly. Recreation is definitely a great use for wilderness, but why can't we do it in a responsible fashion? There are plenty of bolted climbing areas around (like shelf road in colorado) that we can have experiences in if we want a safer. Wilderness is not meant to be a safe and sanitary place!!
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