Advocate Spotlight: Dana Caracciolo

Categories: Advocate Spotlight

Dana Caracciolo lives and breathes climbing. She’s been a climbing advocate for over two decades. She attributes her deep appreciation for environmental activism to her time in Arizona at Prescott College. In Pennsylvania, she got her start as part of a loosely organized network of climber-volunteers protecting access by organizing Adopt a Crags, cleaning graffiti off boulders and cliffs, and mentoring new climbers to become stewards themselves.

Caracciolo showing off the results of a day of trail work in Pennsylvania.

Today, she continues her advocacy work as a dedicated board member of Eastern Pennsylvania Alliance of Climbers (EPAC), which she helped found in 2020. When she’s not working on EPAC projects, Dana is a general manager who oversees two climbing gyms, as well as a mom to four awesome kids (a teen, a tween, and twin 9-year-olds). All in all, she’s exactly the kind of committed advocate that EPAC, Access Fund, and the climbing community are nothing less than lucky to have.

5 Questions for Dana Caracciolo

What’s your favorite cause in climbing advocacy right now?

I am very interested in how we can bring the indoor and outdoor climbing worlds together to be more supportive of one another. Having spent over 20 years of my career in climbing gyms and outdoor recreation, these worlds have always been one and the same. The birth of climbing gyms came from outdoor climbers. It was a place to train, to hone our skills and to share our passion. Support was not mutually exclusive to whether you climbed inside or outside. In fact, when Pennsylvania climbing gyms were facing unscrupulous oversight by state agencies in 2007-08, it was Access Fund that assisted us with navigating that process. You saw the same commitment and support in 2021 when Access Fund and the Climbing Wall Association (CWA) joined forces to support the GYMS Act. I am hopeful when I see Access Fund, CWA, and USA Climbing stepping up to lead by example in these spaces. If we, as a collective climbing community, can elevate important topics such as access, inclusive environments, sustainable futures, and climber education in one environment, it will ultimately have an effect in the other. I am extremely excited to be moderating a panel at the 2022 CWA Summit on this very topic.

What does it mean to you to be a climbing advocate?

For me, it means improving the climbing experience in a sustainable and responsible manner. I am fortunate to get the opportunity to talk to a variety of climbers every day. Gym members, gear vendors, industry colleagues, climbers at the crags, kids at a birthday party, my staff—you name it. Each of those interactions gives insight into what their experience includes and what it is lacking. The question then becomes, How can I use my skills, resources, and privilege to improve the world of climbing? We must always strive to do better.

What’s your advice to new advocates?

First, don’t reinvent the wheel! There are so many resources out there and people willing to help you. Whether it is running your first trail event or starting an LCO, reap the benefits of those who came before you by being willing to ask for and accept help. Second, be proactive! You don’t have to wait for an access issue or some other event to start conversations. Talk to land managers, other conservation/advocacy groups, affinity groups, random climbers…whomever will listen. Let them know that you are here, willing to show up and be a partner to them in whatever form needed.

What surprised/challenged/excited you the most about getting into the advocacy world?

My ultimate happy place is trail work (thank you Amanda and Mike, Conservation Team ‘14). Getting down in the dirt is good for the soul, and I love that my family enjoys it as well. However, I am really enjoying the policy side of things. The LCOs of PA began engaging with the leadership level of various state agencies, which has been an amazing process. It has resulted in discussions ranging from updating state climbing guidelines to increasing access at climbing areas to partnering on land acquisitions.

Who is another climbing advocate whose work is really inspiring you right now?

That would have to be Kareemah Batts, especially her work founding Adaptive Climbing Group. She has been getting it done in the realms of indoor, outdoor, and competition climbing. Her work and spirit are unrelenting. She simply exudes passion and power.

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