Climbing Advocacy Wins in the Lone Star State

It’s common knowledge that Texas is big; perhaps less well known is the fact that the state’s climbing opportunities measure up to its size. Scattered among the cattle, rattlesnakes, and vast plains is rock, and lots of it. But there’s a catch—95% of Texas is privately owned.

Limestone bluff near Austin, TX, ancestral lands the Tonkawa and Nʉmʉnʉʉ (Comanche). Photo courtesy of © Elodie Saracco

With so little public land in the state, climbing opportunities have historically been limited. Exacerbating this challenge has been the chronic underfunding of Texas state parks, which host world-class climbing areas like Hueco Tanks. The lack of money to properly manage public lands in Texas has led to closures when staff can’t keep up with the needs of their parks.

To make matters even more difficult for Texas climbers, the state’s recreational use statute—which protects landowners from liability associated with the public recreating on their land—has historically not included climbing, making landowners extremely wary of allowing climbing on their properties. This effectively kept the vast potential for climbing resources on private land untapped.

In 2017, Access Fund decided it was time to invest in Texas climbing and hired its first Texas regional director. Since then, we’ve had striking success in advocating for climbing in the state, scoring several major wins that advance Texas climbing.

After more than 20 years without legal public access, Medicine Wall in San Antonio will soon open to the public. Access Fund assisted the Texas Climbers Coalition in acquiring Medicine Wall from a private landowner, and the acquisition highlights the potential for securing climbing on private property in the state.

At the state level, landowners now have liability protections when opening their properties to climbing. Access Fund invested heavily in lobbying for a bill that adds liability protections for private and public landowners who open up for recreational climbing. Access Fund began this effort in 2016 as a way to expand climbing opportunities in the state, and in June 2019, Governor Greg Abbott signed the “rock climbing bill,” which went into immediate effect.

Our ongoing campaign to adequately fund Texas state parks is also looking promising. Access Fund joined a coalition of conservation and recreation groups to lobby for a constitutional amendment that would fully fund Texas state parks. Earlier this year, the proposed amendment passed the Texas House and Senate almost unanimously and will now go before the voters of Texas in November. It is estimated that 70% of Texas voters would approve the constitutional amendment, thereby making the future of Texas state parks a little more secure.

This is just the beginning of Access Fund’s work in the Lone Star State, and in the coming years we intend to continue to push for access to the outstanding climbing resources all across Texas.