Don’t Be Afraid of the Big Loud Monsters

There’s a disturbing trend emerging from the BLM offices in the Northwestern part of this country: they seem to be somewhat opposed to rock climbing on public lands. By now, many people are familiar with situation at Castle Rocks, outside City of Rocks, in Idaho. The BLM implemented an unwarranted blanket climbing closure across a large swath of  public land adjacent to the State Park, due to the presence of historic cultural resources. Now, I’m all for preserving resources, but there is plenty of precedent out there for managing these issues in a manner that allows multiple user groups to exist. And in this particular instance, hikers, hunters and grazing cows were still allowed to use the area, but not climbers. I guess cows are better at preserving resources than climbers.

This appeared to be an isolated incident, until last August, when the same BLM office announced its intention to close an area containing 600 climbs at Massacre Rocks, a popular basalt sport climbing destination, due to fears of cultural resources being negatively impacted. Again, there was little talk of wanting to work with climbers, instead they seemed to be set on implementing whatever they wanted. Thankfully, climbers made their voices heard and the BLM has reconsidered its position, and is now working on separate environmental assessments for both areas.

So it seemed things were at least headed in the right direction, and then at the begining of February, we hear that Trout Creek, the premier crack climbing crag in the Northwest, was suddenly closed because of Golden Eagles. This decision was made “without any advance notice, without any public comment process, and without any environmental analysis” according to the local website  Thankfully, climbers again showed up in force to let them know this wasn’t OK, and the BLM is seeking to go about the process through the proper channels,  which was nice of them, considering we’re the ones paying their salaries.

But in all seriousness, these incidents bring to light several problems with the way our public lands are being managed. For one, in many places rock climbers are still not seen as a legitimate user group. ATV’s, hunters and hikers, sure, but not rock climbers, despite the increasing popularity of the sport. Second, there is no cooperation between agencies in different parts of the county, and we’ve even seen differences in regional offices in the same state.

Bird closures are a fact of life for climbers, and we’ve learned to respect them as part of our interaction with the natural world. In some places, more progressive land managers have realized an entire cliff need not be closed because of one nest. In fact, the Fortress, here in Western Colorado, is a striking example of climbers and land managers working together, with the end result being a compromise that everyone can live with. Certain parts of the cliff are closed, but it’s very specific, and for the most part you can still enjoy the area during the nesting season.

All of these problems highlight the need for climbers to be actively engaged in their local communities. It’s easy when the email comes out asking for you to leave a comment on a new management plan to think that someone else will do it, or to put it off until later, and then it never happens. But the fact is we have to show how strong our community is, now, or we could lose access for years to come. It’s much easier to prevent these things from happening, rather than trying to deal with getting areas reopened…

And while I have no official affiliation with the group, I will say that being a member of the Access Fund is as important as it’s ever been. It’s only $35/year, which really isn’t much, even for cheap dirtbags like you, and when you find that a feisty raptor has moved in on your local crag, you’ll be glad you have someone to call who can help you sort out the inevitable issues with the local land managers.

6 Responses to Don’t Be Afraid of the Big Loud Monsters

  1. Has the Access Fund had any role in those BLM issues you mention?

    I think the Access Fund does a pretty poor job of having results they can point to and say hey, this didn’t close because of our action. The AF gives climbers a national face, but hell if I can see much action out of them besides a trail crew in a jeep and spending thousands of donor dollars to film a blind climber on the Naked Edge.

    Dave February 24, 2012 at 5:31 pm
    • Hey Dave,
      I don’t have first hand knowledge of their involvement, but I do know that they were instrumental in making folks aware of the issues and rounding up support and comments for the BLM. Also, we had a big local issue a couple years ago that they played a crucial role in by educating the local agency, and keeping them for arresting several of us for bolting some routes (long story.) I also know of land parcels they have acquired and used to secure access, so yeah, I think they are a good organization. Sounds like your mileage may vary…

      BJ Sbarra February 26, 2012 at 11:07 pm
  2. Dave,

    Check out the top 20 things the AF has accomplished in the past 20 years.

    Let’s see, the AF has helped keep City of Rocks ID, Shelf Road CO, Rumney NH, Index WA open (just to mention three areas) and partnered with numerous local climbers and organizations to build trails, install outhouses, etc., etc. Been working with the BLM, Forest Service, National Park Service, state and local land managers forever. Bought (or helped buy) many privately-held bits of land and got them into public ownership with climbing preserved.

    Not sure where you climb but I’d guess it’s someplace where the AF has had a positive impact. If you’ve got a specific beef, let’s hear it. Otherwise I’d encourage you to get involved with your local climbing organization (or be proactive and start one) and be part of the solution rather than sniping from the sidelines.

    Michael Kennedy March 1, 2012 at 5:38 am
  3. Hello Michael,

    Thanks for posting that fine piece of promotional literature. Yes, the AF has accomplished some good things over the years. They also super bungled a local matter that I won’t get into here. It took place a while ago and it’s probably just left as water under the bridge.

    Nice of you to assume I have not been involved with local climbing orgs/issues, I have. I also do a little sniping from the sidelines. Last I checked, climbers were allowed to have opinions. I’m sure your son had some when he banged 100 bolts out of Cerro Torre? Stuff like that is always good for access. Too bad for his silly ascent that it was climbed ‘by real means’ within a week.

    It’s an honor to get a little zinger from a board member, I’ll think about it next time the AF puts out a video from Eldo.

    Dave March 6, 2012 at 5:40 pm
  4. Pingback: News & Notes – 3/7/2012 | Climbing Narcissist

  5. Hey Dave,

    In addition to the places mentioned above my Michael, the AF has recently been instrumental in maintaining access to CA’s Jailhouse crag, as well as working with the NPS to keep peak-fees lower on Denali.

    I don’t know why you seem so hung up on the promotional Naked Edge video. I was on the Edge that day ahead of Eric, Brady, and the third climber. The video was rigged and filmed in one morning by a couple locals. If they were paid for their work that day, I am sure the total was nowhere near $1000. Your fixation on this one promotional video seems like a bit of a red herring.

    Since there is no other group anywhere close in scope or goal to the Access Fund, I think someone with your grievances would have a better end result by working to change the AF’s direction.

    Blake Herrington March 8, 2012 at 5:55 pm
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