Joshua Tree National Park Evaluates Climbing Management

For the first time in nearly 20 years, Joshua Tree National Park is reviewing its climbing management plan (CMP). This world-class area has a long and colorful climbing history and is home to over 10,000 routes and boulder problems within a two to three hour drive of major cities like Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas—making the future of climbing management a critical issue for the climbing community.

Photo courtesy of © Chris Burkard

Climbing is currently allowed in the vast majority of the park, and it is considered an appropriate and important use under the existing CMP. In frontcountry areas, the placement of fixed anchors is allowed without a permit if using a hand drill (use of a power drill requires a permit). In Congressionally designated Wilderness areas in the backcountry, placement of new fixed anchors must be done with a hand drill and requires a permit. However, one-to-one replacement of existing anchors with a hand drill does not require a permit in Wilderness areas. Fixed anchors are only prohibited in a handful of areas, such as the landscape surrounding Barker Dam.

Park Service officials at Joshua Tree have a few climbing management issues on their radar, including resource impacts from high climber visitation, aging and potentially dangerous bolts, and the proliferation of unpermitted bolted routes in the backcountry. These are issues of serious concern as an underfunded, understaffed Park Service tries to balance resource protection, visitor safety, and the needs of the climbing community.

Access Fund is working closely with the local Joshua Tree climbing community and Park Service officials to ensure the best possible outcome to protect both climbing access and the integrity of this incredible landscape.

In early November, the Access Fund policy team traveled to Joshua Tree to meet with the park superintendent, as well as host a fireside chat where local climbers gathered to exchange concerns and ideas and make plans to get involved with the CMP review process. With the support of Cliffhanger Guides and Friends of Joshua Tree, the meeting drew local climbers from across the region, many of whom expressed the same concerns as park administrators, including impacts to natural resources, crowding, and illegal backcountry bolting. The Park Service has invited Joshua Tree climbers to form a climbing advisory group to provide council on these challenges during the CMP review process.

Should this CMP review lead to a revision of Joshua Tree’s climbing management plan, that revision will be a public process that every American will be entitled to participate in and provide comments on the draft plan. Access Fund will keep the community updated and issue an action alert if/when any revision is opened to public comment.

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