Climbers and Land Managers Find Common Ground through Stewardship

When we launched the Climbing Stewardship Training Series three years ago, our goal was to help local volunteers and land management agencies learn best practices for stewarding the complex nature of a climbing environment. But, perhaps the greater benefit has been bringing climbers and land managers together toward a common goal.

While there are many great examples of climbers and land managers working together to protect climbing areas, there are just as many examples of strained relationships, miscommunications, frustration, impatience and a lack of understanding

“These workshops are providing an ideal forum to break down communication barriers,” says Ty Tyler, Access Fund Stewardship Director. “In just a few days, we’re seeing understanding and acceptance of the unique challenges on both sides, with everyone moving in a common direction.”

Land managers have shown a new understanding and appreciation that they aren’t going it alone—climbers are invested stewards. This decreases stress levels and impatience with climber impacts, while increasing land managers’ willingness to address our concerns.

Climbers have seen similar value by gaining an understanding of what land managers are up against when attempting to fix trails and mitigate impacts. Local advocates often interpret the term “NEPA” as a road block, but understanding its value and harnessing its power can make a huge difference at local climbing areas.

“We’re seeing climbers and land managers gain a greater understanding of each others challenges, which has helped erase troubled history and create a culture of mutual support instead of demands,” says Tyler.

After attending the first Stewardship Training Series event in Yosemite, local climbing advocates at CRAGS Sacramento developed a comprehensive plan for stewarding access at Lovers Leap, which is now being embraced by the local Forest Service. Years of miscommunication and frustration are now being replaced by positive action.

And during the New River Gorge training, National Park Service staff gained valuable insight into climber use patterns, realizing that impacts they’ve associated with climbers for almost 20 years are more likely caused by the general hiking community. A new tone of collaboration has developed as a result of a single workshop.

So far, the series has served over 150 participants from land management agencies, local climbing organizations, and other partners in Yosemite, Red River Gorge, Salt Lake City, New River Gorge, and the Black Hills. The workshops consist of both classroom discussions and field work, designed to suit the needs of the community hosting. Little Cottonwood Canyon, outside Salt Lake, for example, needed extensive rock work skills and bouldering concepts, while the Black Hills needed assistance relating climber use patterns and management needs to land managers.

We are thrilled to see a new sense of collaboration as climbers and land managers partner toward sustainable stewardship of our complex climbing areas.