Meet the Access Fund

Photo Courtesy of:
Matt Stark | New River Gorge, WV

Our History

In the mid 1980s, climbers began to see access problems popping up all across the country. It was the beginning of the sport climbing movement, and many land managers suddenly felt overwhelmed by the number of people climbing. With little knowledge about the sport, and no experience regulating it, climbing areas were being closed down.

Fueling the rising panic around closures, the climbing community was also in upheaval over the ethics of sport climbing. Debates ranged from rap bolting to hang dogging, and climbers were lining up on either side of those issues—some of whom were lobbying government agencies to try and prohibit things like rap bolting.

In 1985, the American Alpine Club formed an Access Committee to confront the closures—many of which could only be resolved by taking on the federal government or the outright purchase of property.

After just a few years, the access problems were so widespread, that it became clear that the climbing community needed a dedicated organization to take on these issues.

So in 1991, the Access Fund was formed as its own organization to represent climbers and work to keep climbing areas open. Born in the midst of the “bolt wars” era, one of the first decisions the Access Fund made was not to take sides in ethical debates, but to defend climbing in all its forms. If the climbing community, within itself wanted to say, as a matter of ethics, that people shouldn’t rap bolt in a certain area, that’s fine. But land managers and the government should not get involved in ethical debates. This is still the Access Fund’s policy today.

One of Access Fund’s biggest issues of the time was fighting anti-bolt policies at National Parks and Forests across the nation. Land managers all over the country were attempting to prohibit bolting, and Access Fund would fight each threat individually—but it was like getting killed by a thousand cuts. It quickly became clear that Access Fund needed to start dealing with the source—the government officials who made the rules back in Washington, DC.

Photo Courtesy of:
John Dickey | Indian Creek, UT
While Access Fund’s history is firmly rooted in political advocacy, our programs have expanded and evolved to address the changing threats to climbing access on both public and private lands.
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Today, the Access Fund is actively working at hundreds of climbing areas around the country—working to reverse or prevent closures, reduce climbers' environmental impacts, buy threatened climbing areas, help landowners manage risk and liability concerns, and educate the next generation of climbers on responsible climbing practices that protect access. The Access Fund is proud to publicize its history and groundbreaking actions in its newsletter, Vertical Times.

  • Acquisition History

    Since 1990, the Access Fund has assisted with 52 acquisitions through the Access Fund Climbing Preservation Grant Program and the Access Fund Land Conservation Campaign, helping to preserve over 15,537 acres of land for climbing. Learn More

  • Grant History

    ​The Climbing Conservation Grant Program has been funding projects that preserve or enhance climbing access and opportunities and conserve the climbing environment throughout the United States since 1991. Learn More