Access Fund Announces 2019 Climbing Advocate Awards

We're proud to announce the recipients of the 2019 Climbing Advocate Awards. For over 20 years, Access Fund has been recognizing the outstanding work of climbing advocates across the country. Among this year’s honorees are rockstar community builders, local climbing organizations, bolt warriors, climbing stewards, grassroots organizers, and visionary leaders. These individuals and organizations stand out in their commitment to the American climbing community.

Kareemah Batts

Community Builder, Advocate, and Mentor

We are thrilled to present Kareemah Batts with a Climbing Advocacy Award for her dedicated leadership and advocacy on behalf of the adaptive climbing community. Batts founded the Adaptive Climbing Group, a program designed to give people with disabilities opportunities to participate in the sport of climbing. Since 2012, she has been actively growing the community of climbers and volunteers, which now has more than 1,000 adaptive participants nationwide, and helping to develop adaptive programs at gyms and outdoor crags. Batts is deeply and fiercely passionate about fostering diverse and inclusive climbing initiatives. She has made the climbing experience more open and accessible to underrepresented climbers, while also improving how Access Fund and other climbing advocates approach conservation and advocacy. "True access is more than a day or a week, it is constant and sustainable," Batts says. Thank you, Kareemah, for your amazing work!

Julia Geisler

Bebie Leadership Award

Access Fund is proud to present the Bebie Leadership Award to Julia Geisler for her dedication to protecting climbing in and around Utah’s Wasatch Range. Geisler has served for the past eight years as executive director of the Salt Lake Climbers Alliance, where her work spans advocacy, stewardship, local organizing, access, and climber education. In 2017, she spearheaded a partnership with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) to legitimize decades of climbing access at the popular Gate Buttress in Little Cottonwood Canyon. She has also tackled several years of large-scale stewardship initiatives to rebuild the climbing access systems in Little Cottonwood Canyon and played a critical role in stewardship at Joe’s Valley. A seasoned public lands advocate, Geisler has also been a regular member of the Utah team at our Climb the Hill advocacy event in Washington, D.C. Also, her leadership of the Wasatch Anchor Replacement Initiative sets a high standard for bolt replacement work.

Ian Kirk

Rebolting Warrior and Advocate

Access Fund is excited to recognize Ian Kirk, director of the Red River Gorge Fixed Gear Initiative (RRGFGI), with a Climbing Advocate Award for his stewardship of one of America’s premier climbing destinations. Under Kirk’s leadership, RRGFGI is providing critical support for rebolting efforts, new route development, and permadraw replacement across the Red River Gorge, and incentivizing the use of best-in-class stainless-steel hardware. Kirk has worked with Access Fund to secure annual Anchor Replacement Fund grants and develop partnerships with the American Safe Climbing Association and ClimbTech. We’re pleased to recognize Kirk as a Rebolting Warrior.

Howard School Interns, Lookout Mountain Conservancy

Stewards and Youth Leaders

Access Fund is honored to recognize Lookout Mountain Conservancy (LMC) and its Howard School interns for their critical role in opening The Boulders on Old Wauhatchie Pike in Chattanooga, Tennessee. With support and training from Access Fund–Jeep Conservation Teams, the Howard School interns led a four-year stewardship initiative to build trails, construct landing zones, install signs, and clear vegetation—helping to open a brand-new urban bouldering park just five minutes from downtown Chattanooga. In addition to managing the day-to-day stewardship of this new bouldering park, the interns also discovered and unearthed a number of brand-new boulders that were completely hidden by vegetation, adding more quality bouldering opportunities to the park. Thanks to LMC and the interns, the boulder field is now the most accessible climbing area in Chattanooga, free and open for the public to enjoy.

Dr. James Maples

Researcher and Educator

Access Fund is thrilled to recognize Dr. James Maples with a Climbing Advocate Award for his commitment to researching the economic impacts of climbing, helping to advance Access Fund’s understanding of the positive economic impact that climbing is having in rural communities across the country. Maples’ work has confirmed that climbing is an economic force for good and is helping to create a sustainable outdoor recreation economy—especially in economically distressed regions like rural Appalachia. This work has strengthened Access Fund’s advocacy work, helping policy makers and land managers understand the critical importance of the outdoor recreation economy. James has been an outstanding partner and collaborator, and his research has helped change the conversation around climbing: When climbing is open, climbers bring in millions of dollars of sustainable revenue and communities thrive. Thank you, Dr. Maples!

Dennis Nelms

Local Leader and Organizer

Access Fund is honored to recognize Dennis Nelms with a Climbing Advocate Award for his leadership within the Arkansas climbing community. As a long-standing board member of the Arkansas Climbers Coalition (including several years as chair), Nelms has helped strengthen the organization, expand community outreach, and recruit new volunteers and board members. Nelms has also given considerable time and support toward rebolting efforts in the region, as well as advocating for climbing with both state and federal policy makers and local business owners. During the recent 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell event, Nelms took U.S. Congressman Bruce Westerman climbing and showed him firsthand the great economic benefits of rock climbing in Arkansas. The outing left a lasting impression with the congressman and helped to raise the profile of Arkansas climbing with policy makers. Thank you, Dennis!

Julie Reed

Steward, Advocate, Leader

Access Fund is thrilled to recognize Julie Reed with a Climbing Advocate Award for her support and leadership in the Southeastern climbing community. Reed has dedicated well over a decade of service to climbing access in the Southeast. She served on the board of the Southeastern Climbers Coalition (SCC) for seven years, including a stint as board president. Reed’s support was critical in the acquisition of Hell’s Kitchen and Dogwood West, which permanently protected these bouldering areas. Reed has also logged thousands of volunteer hours at trail days and fundraising events, and offered pro bono legal services to SCC. Reed’s community recognizes her as an exemplary advocate, steward, and volunteer. She always shows up, digs in, and leads by example. Thank you, Julie!

Scott Underwood

Rebolt Warrior and Educator

Access Fund is pleased to honor Scott Underwood with a Climbing Advocate Award for his leadership in the sustainable replacement of fixed anchors in Washington state. Since 2016, Underwood has played a critical role in expanding the work of the Washington Anchor Replacement Project, which provides quality hardware and educates volunteers on best practices for sustainable rebolting, helping to replace aging and unsafe climbing anchors throughout Washington. In 2019 alone, Underwood helped organize 10 “Ground Schools” that educated more than 80 students in the art of anchor replacement, in collaboration with local gyms and partners. Underwood was also instrumental in securing sponsors to replace bad hardware at 17 crags across the state—from the Olympic Peninsula to Spokane. Underwood also volunteers on the Washington Climbers Coalition board and founded the Olympic Peninsula Climbers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and stewarding the peninsula’s valuable climbing areas. Thanks for the inspiration, Scott!

Aaron Mike

Reese Martin Regional Coordinator Award

We are thrilled to honor Aaron Mike with a Climbing Advocate Award for his work as Access Fund’s Native Lands Coordinator and his dedication to amplifying the native voice within outdoor recreation advocacy. Mike has worked alongside Access Fund since 2014, building partnerships between climbers and tribes to protect native lands and cultural resources, as well as promote the importance of the native voice within the outdoor industry. A member of the Navajo Nation, Mike also works closely with NativesOutdoors, an outdoor company that empowers indigenous communities through its products and storytelling for a sustainable world. Mike has testified on behalf of climbers and the Navajo community on the importance of protecting Bears Ears National Monument. He also works to promote climbing to Navajo youth in Mentmore, New Mexico, and shares low-impact climbing practices in collaboration with The North Face.

Illinois Climbers Association

Land Conservation Award

Access Fund is thrilled to honor Illinois Climbers Association (ICA) with the Land Conservation Award for completing a multiyear effort to permanently protect the Holy Boulders in Southern Illinois. During the Final Testament bouldering competition in November 2019, ICA made the final payment on the Holy Boulders property, which Access Fund purchased in 2012 to prevent the climbing area from being lost in private sale. ICA took ownership of the Holy Boulders in 2016 to ensure long-term climber-friendly management. ICA is the 11th organization to fully pay back their Climbing Conservation Loan Program (CCLP) loan, returning funds to the revolving loan program, allowing Access Fund to loan the money out again to save another threatened climbing area. Access Fund looks forward to supporting ICA’s permanent stewardship of the area and their growing leadership in local conservation and climbing access.


Corporate Responsibility

Access Fund is pleased to recognize Omaze with a Climbing Advocate Award for its investment in the future of our climbing areas. Using its unique fundraising platform and digital outreach campaigns, Omaze gave its growing audience the opportunity to win the Sprinter van of their dreams and support Access Fund’s work in the process. The organization reached more than 100,000 people through these unique campaigns, raising awareness of Access Fund’s mission to protect America’s climbing and raising a significant amount of money to support the cause.

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