02/14/2022

The Indian Creek Climber Stewards: Inspiring a Sense of Place

Access Fund has maintained a presence in Indian Creek for over a decade, but for the most part, it’s been behind the scenes—working to build relationships with land managers and partners, doing trail work, building infrastructure. That all changed in 2021 with the Climber Stewards.

Johanna Cogen and Lauren Hebert, the 2021 Indian Creek Climber Stewards. Ancestral lands of Navajo, Ute, Ute Mountain, Hopi and Zuni.

The Climber Stewards program has roots in similar, long-standing programs in Joshua Tree and Yosemite that aim to equip climbers with the knowledge they need to keep their impact as low as possible. Especially important to their role is educating climbers on impact and access issues that are specific to individual climbing areas and not covered under general Leave No Trace principles.

A human presence is a proven way to help people better understand an area and their potential impacts there.

Unlike what you’d expect to find in a lot of recreation areas—an old wooden bulletin board with outdated information tacked to it, if you’re lucky—a human presence is a proven way to help people better understand an area and their potential impacts there.

The Human Message Board

Lauren Hebert and Johanna Cogen, the 2021 Indian Creek Climber Stewards, are both seasoned Creek climbers and passionate about community building. While stationed in the Creek, they thought of themselves, in Hebert’s words, as the “human message board,” where climbers could find information on anything and everything to do with the Creek: where and how to dispose of waste, the importance of staying on the trail, how to interact with cultural resources, appropriate dispersed camping locations and practices, and information about the monument itself and what that designation means for climbing. “We talked to everyone from first-timers to old-timers about everything from wag bags to dinosaur bones," Cogen said.

Just by interacting with the Climber Stewards, climbers were prompted to think critically about their impact on the climbing area while they were in it. When they inevitably found themselves with a question throughout the day, they knew exactly where to get the answer.

Bridging the Gap

Building partnerships—with land managers like the BLM, The Nature Conservancy, and other stakeholders—is another key component of the Climber Steward program. “I want the climbing community to be looked upon as not only a good user group of the lands, but also as good stewards, a resource that land managers and stakeholder groups can rely on,” says Ty Tyler, Access Fund stewardship director.

The Climber Stewards program is proof positive that the climbing community recognizes and takes accountability for climbing’s impact on natural spaces, that we see the education gaps that land managers are struggling to fill, and that we’re willing to do something about it.

“As a community, we really want to do the right thing, want to be stewards of the land—but we don’t always have the tools and knowledge that we need,” says Andrea Hassler, Access Fund field coordinator. “The first time I went to Indian Creek, I didn’t know how to poop in the desert. That’s where the Climber Stewards come in.”

What’s Next

What’s next for the Climber Stewards program? Another season in the Creek, first of all—stop by if you’re there this spring to say hi and get a cup of coffee. More importantly, expanding the program to bring climber education and stakeholder partnership to other destination climbing areas with a similar knowledge gap when it comes to access and stewardship issues.

“It’s a win-win for everyone involved,” Tyler says, “and we want to bring that to as many climbing areas as possible.”

The Climber Stewards tent at the Beef Basin Junction parking lot.

You can find the Climber Stewards in the Creek for their second season in Spring of '22. Catch them at Climber Coffee sessions on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings from 9am to noon, every weekend in March and April. Their full event schedule can be found on our Events Calendar.