Great Falls Management Plan Reflects Climbers Concerns, VA

By Simon Carr, Friends of Great Falls

In September 2005, the National Park Service (NPS) released a draft General Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement for Great Falls Park, Virginia. The draft Plan contained proposals with potentially serious implications for climbing at Great Falls, including the closure of cliffs, permits to climb, and permanent anchors. Great Falls is a top-roping area just outside Washington DC and contains over 250 routes up to 5.12.

In response to the draft Plan, climbers in the VA/MD/DC area formed Friends of Great Falls (www.friendsofgreatfalls.com) to mobilize climbers to comment on the draft plan. There were approximately 270 comments, the majority of these from climbers. Almost universally, the submissions from climbers were opposed to the NPS proposals.

In December 2007, a final Plan was released by the NPS. The revised plan is a significant improvement over the original draft, specifically the sections affecting recreational climbing. The NPS has clearly taken into consideration many of the suggestions made by climbers during the public comment process. Generally, the discussion of the potential environmental impacts from recreational climbing is reasonable. Similarly, the discussion of the potential actions that might be proposed in relation to mitigating possible environmental impacts, or to assist in meeting NPS management objectives, is fair and neutral.

However, the revised plan contains very little in terms of detailed proposals. In the final plan, the NPS has proposed the preparation of a specific Climbing Management Plan and has indicated that this will involve local climbing groups. There is no timetable at present for preparing a Climbing Management Plan.