Balancing the Growth of Climbing with Sustainability: An LCO Perspective

Categories: Perspectives , Community

Access Fund is inviting leaders in the community—from local climbing organizations (LCOs), to indoor climbing gyms, to JEDI advocates, to athletes, to land managers to share their perspectives:

How do we, as a climbing community, embrace the growth of our sport while ensuring sustainability of our treasured outdoor spaces?

Briana Blanchard

Board member and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee chair for the Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition. The Red River Gorge region of Kentucky is one of the most popular climbing destinations in the world and is experiencing exceptional growth in climber visitation.

Climbing is growing in popularity. More than ever before, people are falling in love with the sport and heading outside with big dreams of communing with nature and high hopes of clipping chains. The Red River Gorge region of Kentucky is one of the most popular climbing destinations in the world and is experiencing exceptional growth in climber visitation. As a board member for Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition (RRGCC), I have seen firsthand the impact our growing numbers are having on our ability to preserve and conserve the lands we climb on.

Severe erosion at Roadside Crag, KY, which was closed for nearly 7 years, due in part to climber impacts. The Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team restored this area in 2018. Ancestral lands of Osage, ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi, Shawandasse Tula, Yuchi, Adena, and Hopewell.

At the same time, we are making shifts in inclusivity to create a welcoming and diverse environment. These shifts are necessary and long past due.

As we look at the growth of our sport, one question begs to be answered: How does our climbing community embrace the growth while ensuring we protect these areas for generations to come? I believe education is crucial to finding this balance.

Climbing was built on mentorship and learning from others. Now, more than ever, it is important for experienced outdoor climbers to mentor new climbers in a way that fosters learning and growth. We should not judge a climber who does not have as much knowledge as we do. Not everyone has had the privilege of learning about outdoor ethics. It is also vital that newer, less experienced climbers be willing to accept advice to improve both their climbing abilities and our collective ability to protect these special places.

At RRGCC we’ve developed a Gym to Crag program that engages new and enthusiastic climbers, often through the local gyms, offering education on Leave No Trace ethics, climber safety, outdoor climbing etiquette, and so much more. The program creates a safe and welcoming environment where new and seasoned climbers alike can come to ask questions, gather information, and learn how to transition to outdoor climbing—no question is unworthy of being asked.

Community is everything—we must rely on each other. If we do not begin taking personal responsibility for the changing nature of climbing, the environmental and ecological impacts will be insurmountable and irreversible. We owe it to the land and the future generations of the sport to do as much as we can to ensure sustainability, because if we don’t, we will lose our outdoor climbing spaces.

Credit Photo Courtesy of:
© Adventure Visionaries

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