Mission Impossible: Save Climbing in the Desert

The climbing in Indian Creek and the desert around Moab is like no where else in the world, but the one thing it does have in common with other areas is access issues. Thankfully, there is a small but dedicated crew of folks stepping up to the task of preserving climbing in the region, the Friends of Indian Creek. This group has been around since 2005, but the newly elected board is taking the bull by the horns, and has some ambitious plans for protecting these special places. I recently caught up with Sam Lightner, Jr., the new president, to find out what’s in the works, and how the rest of us can get involved.

Tell me about the new toilet at Supercrack/Donnelly/BotB, where did that come from?

The toilet was paid for by Friends of Indian Creek and a host of generous sponsors who should be mentioned. They are the Access Fund, Connie Kemmerer, Michael, Julie, and Hayden Kennedy, Lightner Foundation of Wyoming, Black Diamond Equipment, Outdoor Research, Jackson Hole Mountain Guides, Wild Country/Excalibur, Bureau of Land Management, Sharp End Publishing, Pagan Mountaineering, and Gearheads.

Originally we wanted a composting toilet near the Bridger Jack Campsites, but for a number of reasons we had to move away from that. The most important was that doing the maintenance on the unit was not possible given the road (the truck can’t get there). When the BLM decided to go forward with their parking lot at Supercrack last spring, we decided that location would be the best place for the toilet. The sponsors agreed. The thing is already getting a lot of use.

You guys recently elected a new board, who are the new members?

We have a new board of psyched people: Me (Prez), Ralph Ferrara (Treasurer), Chris Kalous from Carbondale, Stephen Smith from Durango, Brad Barlage from SLC, Jeanine Saia from Moab, Josh Gross from Boulder, and Noah Bigwood from SLC.

What are the most pressing issues at the moment?

We have a number of issues we need to work on in the Creek. Camping is always an issue, as human waste is the BLM’s single biggest “problem” with the climbers. There are thousands of climber-days in the Creek and that popularity is our sport’s worst enemy. So, we are working with the BLM to make sure camping stays something like it has been, as everyone loves the wild nature of it.

We also have to work with them on the parking issue at Scarface. The highway department and the BLM have a serious problem with cars being parked along 211. No one wants to see an accident and it is a skinny road. So, something is going to have to be worked out, as it’s perhaps the second most popular crag there.

What’s the latest on the new campsites at Creek Pasture? I’ve heard there was going to be a toilet, is that true?

No toilet but the FOIC will probably, depending on funding, have the usual porta-potties out there in the spring. The sites are being designated either this week or next… I haven’t gotten a report yet from the BLM.

It appears you guys have broadened your scope to include the climbing around Moab, can you tell me about that decision?

Last year the board voted to expand the scope of the Friends of Indian Creek. Very few climbers come to the desert ONLY for Indian Creek. So, Friends of Indian Creek is going to begin to work with the land managers in the greater Moab area. There is a lot going on and its a daunting task. We have two national parks, another sector of the BLM, and the Forest service, as well as a few private land holders and, well, UDOT (the highway department) to work with. However, there is no other group in the region to do it and someone needs to speak up for climbers rights. The most immediate issue is the Resource Management Plan that will be put forth from Arches National Park. We will need a serious letter writing campaign to make sure our interests are best met. Even if you don’t like climbing in Arches, this is important. The Park Service manages Arches from the same offices that it does Canyonlands, so any plan from Arches is the most likely plan for the other park to adopt in the future.

How can climbers get involved and help out?

The Friends of Indian Creek exists because of the popularity of the area. We are trying to mitigate the effects of that popularity in a positive way for the environment and for climbers, and we can only do it with the support of the people who come to the region. Climbers can help a lot in the next year by becoming a member of the Access Fund and designating that you wish to be a member of the Friends of Indian Creek. We are going to start a dual membership program with the A.F. It will help us to maintain the wag bag program, keep the toilets in place, and other programs we are trying to do with land managers in the area.

Also, Friends of Indian Creek has a brand spanking new Facebook page where you can get the latest news and updates. Head on over there and “like” us.

One Response to Mission Impossible: Save Climbing in the Desert

  1. Thanks for getting involved Sam and thanks to BJ for taking the time to get the inside scoop! I will renew my Access Fund membership, seeing as I’ve shrunk my last commemorative tee to Daisy Duke status. I will “like” you both, as well, on Facebook and in real life.

    Jamie Lynn Miller December 1, 2010 at 3:55 am
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