New Study Shows Climbers are Main Recreational Users of Boulder Canyon


Boulder Climbing Community and the Access Fund announce the release of a Boulder Canyon User Study facilitated by Travis Flohr of University of Colorado Denver. The study ran from May 2012 to October 2013 to document climbing activities in Boulder Canyon.

Boulder Canyon, located in Boulder County, Colorado, comprises an approximately 15-mile long corridor from west to east. Land ownership in this area is a mix of National Forest, county, city, and private lands. The canyon provides a wide array of recreation opportunities for rock climbing, fishing, picnicking, hiking, mountain biking and scenic driving. The 1,500 routes, extensive variety, and great scenery make Boulder Canyon one of the most popular climbing areas in the state.

Based on the study, the estimated number of climber visits per year within Boulder Canyon is between 32,000 and 43,000. Out of a total of 472 observed canyon users during the observation period, 309 were climbers, or 65%, making climbers the largest documented user group in Boulder Canyon. The study also showed that the busiest and most popular climbing areas, in order include: Animal World, Avalon, and Castle Rock. Summer and fall are the most frequent climbing seasons, with trad climbing and sport climbing making up the majority of use. According to the study, the high-use areas are also the areas with the most observed erosion on approach routes, parking areas, base areas, and descent routes. This is likely due to climbers’ foot traffic causing erosion and vegetation damage in areas where there aren’t adequate access trails.

“This study is an important step in the formation of a stewardship coalition for Boulder Canyon,” says Joe Sambataro, Access Director of the Access Fund. Due to the complexity of land ownership, there are currently no uniform or comprehensive climbing management plans in Boulder Canyon. In order to protect access for all users, Boulder Climbing Community and the Access Fund are calling for an increased investment in sustainable management. “By showing the different needs and impacts of climbing activities in the canyon, the study provides a valuable data point to encourage cooperation amongst all involved stakeholders to help identify priorities for future stewardship.”

“Climbers are not merely users of the land,” says Roger Briggs, Operations Manager of the Boulder Climbing Community. “We encourage climbers to minimize their impacts when climbing, but also to be actively involved as stewards in cooperation with land owners and agencies.” Most recently, Boulder Climbing Community, Action Committee for Eldorado, Flatirons Climbing Council, and local climbers have been tirelessly volunteering on restoration of local trails damaged in September’s severe flooding. “It is great to see climbers giving back to the lands where they climb,” says Roger Briggs.

About the Boulder Canyon User Study
The purpose of the study was to provide information on climbing activities to local land agencies and local nonprofit organizations to help inform and prioritize future stewardship projects as part of a larger Boulder Canyon Stewardship Coalition. The author is Travis Flohr, who is currently pursuing a Design and Planning PhD in the sustainability and healthy environments track at the University of Colorado Denver. The study analyzed 524 online user studies, 25 car counts at major pullouts throughout the canyon, 8 additional user surveys, and 5 user counts. The study can serve as a model for other dispersed recreation areas across the country and be improved upon to provide additional concrete results. For more information, see boulderclimbingcommunity.net.