09/13/2021

A More Sustainable Future For Climbing

This year, Access Fund celebrates its 30th birthday: It’s a time to reflect on all that we have achieved together and, more importantly, to take stock of the challenges ahead and chart a course that will protect the future of climbing.

Over the past three decades, Access Fund has primarily fought for legal or physical access to the places we love to climb. While there is still a lot of work to be done on this front, we have largely established climbing as a legitimate use of public land. We have also developed a number of well-established tools that assist with legal access to private land, like our Climbing Conservation Loan Program, recreational easements, and leases. And we have mobilized climbing conservation, putting crews on the road to help climbing communities address the growing impacts at our climbing areas. We have come so far, but there is still much work to do.

Climbing in Linville Gorge Wilderness. Ancestral lands of the S’atsoyaha (Yuchi) and Catawba. Photo courtesy of © Bryan Miller | Fixed Line Media

Explosive Growth Drives New Threats

Looking forward, the explosive growth in the number of outdoor climbers defines a new set of challenges, as well as opportunities. This growth places an increased need on Access Fund’s work. In many cases, we are loving our climbing areas to death, and this is creating new threats to climbing access—including overuse, overcrowding, more competition, and changing environmental conditions.

The impacts we have as climbers may very well lead to the greatest threats to access in the future.

The question is no longer whether land managers should or should not allow climbers to scale the cliffs of El Cap or other iconic crags. Now, the question is whether the tremendous growth in the number of climbers is sustainable—whether land managers can support access while also protecting the land and the places we love. The impacts we have as climbers may very well lead to the greatest threats to access in the future.

Land managers at Red Rock Canyon turn visitors away due to crowding. Ancestral lands of Southern Paiute and Western Shoshone. © Irene Yee

But this growth in climbing is also an opportunity. As our numbers swell, it means there are more climbers walking the halls of our nation’s Capitol. More climbers in influential land management positions, and more climbers in the media spotlight. We have an opportunity to turn all of these influential climbers into advocates, whether meeting with lawmakers, building trails, or just setting a good example while they are out at the crag.

The Path Forward

If we’re going to continue to be successful in safeguarding the places we love and maintaining climbing access, we must connect with these new climbers and bring them into the fold—engaging them in the rewarding work of protecting America’s climbing. And we must scale Access Fund’s programs and investments in local communities to meet the unprecedented demands of our growing sport.

There is no organization better poised than Access Fund to steer this growth in climbing. Thirty years of unparalleled success have laid a strong foundation for the path forward, which includes a committed and talented staff distributed across the country, a vibrant and energetic Board of Directors, programs that are on point and impactful, and all of you—the dedicated community of volunteers, members, and partners. As we look to the future, we’ll be doing the same great work you’ve come to expect from Access Fund. This new course is by no means a sea change in the manner and direction of our work. Rather, it reflects the evolving role of Access Fund in the climbing community.

How We’ll Get It Done

Connect With and Inspire More Climbers to Join the Advocacy Movement

Protecting climbing areas means more than keeping them open—it means making sure that the climbers who use these areas are well-educated, engaged, and inspired to protect the places they climb. If we are going to create a sustainable future for climbing, we must reach the rapidly growing constituency of new climbers and bring them into this rewarding work. All climbers have a role to play in protecting the places they love, and Access Fund will be actively working to bring all climbers into our diverse and vibrant community of climbing advocates.

Scale Programs to Meet Growing Demand

Over the past three decades, Access Fund has earned the reputation of getting things done and securing tangible results in protecting climbing areas. With five incredibly impactful programs—climbing policy and advocacy, stewardship and conservation, land acquisition and protection, local support and mobilization, and education—our core mission activities are already on-point to address the challenges ahead. Now, we must scale these programs, adding more capacity to meet the needs of a much larger community of climbers. This will require more boots on the ground building out sustainable climbing areas, more trips to Washington, D.C., to meet with lawmakers, more local advocates building relationships with land managers, and more horsepower behind climber education initiatives.

Deepen Investments in Local Climbing Communities

The first and best line of defense for protecting climbing areas is almost always the local climbers who are familiar with the area and the issues. That’s why a critical piece of our work is to organize and support all of you—in your local climbing communities—with funding, capacity building, and stewardship and advocacy expertise. As Access Fund scales its programs, we must also scale our investment in local climbing advocacy communities through more grants, more services, more regional staff time—giving you and other local advocates the tools you need to protect your backyard crags.

A Bright Future

As we chart an exciting path forward for Access Fund and the climbing community, we should always remember that the eyes of the country are watching us. Climbing has captured the imagination of the general public, the mainstream media, and policy makers in a way we never could have predicted 15-20 years ago. Free Solo and the Dawn Wall have landed climbers on the stage of the Academy Awards, and on the front page of The New York Times. Climbing pros have become social media superstars, and climbing’s debut in the Olympics this year will create even more growth. And in Washington, D.C., virtually every public lands bill introduced into Congress is now framed in terms of the outdoor recreation economy.

This is an exciting time for climbing, and we are honored to lead the charge in creating a sustainable future for our sport—will you join us?

4 Easy Ways Create a More Sustainable Future for Climbing

  1. Become an Access Fund member and join the climbing advocacy movement. If you aren’t already a member, now is the time. Membership starts at just $20, and we have some of the coolest member t-shirts out there. Join today >>

  2. Be a responsible climber. Minimize your impact every time you go climbing by following the simple principles of The Climber’s Pact.

  3. Spread the word. Talk to your friends and climbing partners about the climbing advocacy cause and how to climb responsibly. Introduce them to Access Fund by encouraging them to sign up for The Climbing Advocate newsletter.

  4. Volunteer. Dedicate a few hours to help your local climbing organization or Access Fund’s Conservation Teams with crag stewardship work. It’s a rewarding experience and a great way to meet fellow climbers. Connect with your local climbing organization.

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