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Risk management, the process of evaluating and limiting exposure to potential liability, is a fundamental concern of land managers and owners. Recreational activities that are perceived to create an unusually high degree of exposure to risk—like climbing—are often subject to increased scrutiny by land managers. In an age when outdoor activities have been overly sensationalized by the media, the perception of risk associated with climbing is often overstated and misunderstood. Private land owners and, on occasion, some public agencies sometimes consider restricting or even prohibiting activities like climbing under the false pretense that by doing so, they're engaging in effective risk management.
But there are a myriad of liability protections available to land owners and managers, the most common of which are Recreational Use Statutes. All 50 states have enacted Recreational Use Statutes to encourage public access for recreational purposes on private land. Under certain circumstances, these statutes may limit a landowner’s duty of care and warning, though they vary in their degree of liability protection by state. Many states have a nonexclusive list of recreational activities with the phrase “such as but not limited to.” Some states—such as Colorado, Tennessee, Alabama, Vermont, Virginia, Washington,New Hampshire,and Wisconsin—mention rock climbing as an example of recreational use, providing further liability protection for climbing. Other layers of liability protection may include sovereign immunity, tort law, case law, waiver systems, signage, and other climbing management strategies. Your local legal counsel can advise you on these.
Please download these resources for detailed information on climbing risk management tools and strategies:
This information is provided as general background and the Access Fund is not providing legal advice. Laws vary from state to state and change regularly. Interested parties should always seek qualified legal counsel by consulting their ownprivate counsel in their local jurisdiction.