07/14/2021

Access Fund to Deploy Climber Stewards at Indian Creek

Access Fund is excited to announce that it will put two Climber Stewards on the ground at Indian Creek in Southeast Utah this fall to help provide visiting climbers with information and resources to help them minimize their impacts at this increasingly popular and sensitive area.

Indian Creek is on ancestral lands of Ute and Pueblo. © James Q. Martin

With an endless supply of world-class splitter cracks, unique cultural resources, and awe-inspiring views, the Creek is the kind of landscape that inspires people to come back again and again. And it has boomed in popularity over the last decade.

But this increasing popularity is leading to greater levels of impact in the region, with folks unknowingly camping where they shouldn’t and creating ever-expanding “mega” campsites that damage the environment. There are also growing concerns around improperly disposed human waste, impacts to cultural resources, and conflicts with nearby cattle ranchers.

“This is a spectacular and delicate landscape that holds thousands of years of native history,” says Ty Tyler, Access Fund’s stewardship director. “Visiting climbers need more resources and information in order to recreate responsibly in this landscape and take an active role in protecting it.”

Earlier this year, Access Fund teamed up with the University of Utah to conduct a survey of climbers who visit Indian Creek, to help gauge visitation and explore conservation and education strategies that can ensure a sustainable future for climbing at the Creek.

“We’ve heard from visiting climbers, BLM managers, and the nearby Dugout Ranch that growing visitation has been hitting the area hard and that there’s a gap in our low-impact education efforts,” Tyler says.

Nearly 80% of survey respondents supported the idea of putting stewards on the ground at Indian Creek during peak seasons to help educate climbers and provide them with the necessary information and resources to minimize their own impacts and fully understand the value of this incredible landscape.

“No climber is perfect, and we all leave some trace from our adventures,” Tyler says. “Each pack placed on the ground, each rope bag dropped at the crag, each cathole dug, each plant crushed by a tire all leave an impact. But we can take an active role in mitigating these impacts and protecting the places we love.”

Access Fund Conservation Team crew hosting a Climber Coffee event in the Creek.

Beginning this fall, Climber Stewards will become a seasonal fixture at the Creek Pasture and Superbowl campgrounds, playing host and becoming information centers for visitors. During prime climbing season, the Climber Stewards will host regular “Climber Coffee” events to connect with climbers on the area’s natural and cultural values and share Leave No Trace strategies to protect cultural heritage and native vegetation, as well as raise awareness around raptor closures and discuss our restoration efforts. They will also visit area crags to share belays, give climbers up-to-date information on visitation, and provide tips for where to find less crowded crags.

The Climber Stewards will also help BLM managers improve their decision-making processes by providing data and real-time information on climbing activity. They’ll also support biologists as they monitor raptor habitats, archaeologists as they keep an eye on cultural resources, and botanists as they monitor for invasive plants.

The Climber Stewards’ role is not a new one, and not one that Access Fund can take credit for. Successful Climber Stewards programs are already in place at Yosemite and Joshua Tree national parks, spearheaded by visionary local climbers who saw a similar gap in land managers’ ability to connect with and share information that would allow climbers to recreate responsibly. These original programs were led by a core group of incredibly dedicated climbers, advocates, and National Park Service staff members. A special thanks to Jesse McGahey, Bernadette Regan, Ben Doyle, Brandon Latham, John Lauretig, Eric Bissell, and John Connor for pioneering the Climbing Stewards model to protect our cherished climbing areas.

Land managers across the country are struggling to bring on permanent staff to help educate and manage impacts on the ground. Access Fund sees this as a critical gap that our community can help fill, taking a more active role in managing our own impacts and creating a culture of conservation within the climbing community.

“This is just the beginning,” says Chris Winter, Access Fund’s executive director. “We’re taking what we learn from this pilot program at Indian Creek, and the visionary programs at Yosemite and Joshua Tree, to expand this program to other popular climbing areas from coast to coast.”

Access Fund will be posting openings for the Indian Creek Climber Stewards in the coming weeks. Stay tuned for more details.