When you daydream about your next climbing adventure, you may conjure images of high mountain peaks, extreme conditions, and natural settings far from the cities and towns where most of us live. And that’s often the point: to escape to a more pristine, natural environment and get away from the burdens of our busy lives.
But a growing number of us are escaping much closer to home. There are vital climbing environments popping up near the cities and towns where many of us live, work, and play. For many climbers, urban rock is a valuable resource for training and local adventure.
Urban climbing has been going on in small pockets for decades. Early American mountaineers and the stonemasters of Yosemite honed their craft at Indian Rock in Berkeley and Stony Point in Los Angeles. DC climbers have been finding refuge at Great Falls and Carderock outside our nation’s capital for years. And phenom Ashima Shiraishi learned to climb at Rat Rock in New York City’s Central Park, which remains a training ground for the Gunks and an urban climbing area in its own right.
Over the last decade, a growing number of towns and cities have welcomed climbing in their parks and greenways as a use of community open space. Local climbing organizations and the Access Fund regularly work with city and town officials to encourage climbing access and support stewardship and management.
While a new norm seems to be emerging, many municipal land managers or authorities still don’t accept climbing as a welcome recreational activity. More often than not, their concerns fall into one of three categories: 1) potential liability in the event of an accident, 2) unacceptable impacts to natural resources or other park users, or 3) lack of resources to manage another recreational use. These are legitimate concerns, but they can be overcome with some smart advocacy efforts and a bit of help from your local climbing organization and the Access Fund.
OVERCOMING LIABILITY CONCERNS. Climbing is perceived as an extremely high risk sport, and land owners are often concerned with exposing themselves to liability in the event of an accident. But there are various layers of liability protection, including state recreational use statutes, case law, waiver systems, access agreements, and other basic strategies that could easily alleviate liability concerns.
ADDRESSING IMPACTS. Any time people (climbers or otherwise) interact with the natural world, there are impacts. But a smart climbing management plan and ongoing stewardship efforts from committed local climbers can mitigate these impacts.
LENDING RESOURCES. Many city and town governments are plagued by budget cuts and a lack of resources. This is where a trusted local climbing organization can step up to help. There are numerous examples of urban crags across the country that are managed, at least in part, by local climbing organizations who volunteer their time or resources to staff entrance gates, manage trash services, or oversee waiver systems.
BOOSTING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT. Towns with climbing nearby almost always see a positive flow of dollars to their community. Whether filling up their gas tanks, grabbing dinner at a nearby restaurant, crashing at a local hotel, or grabbing last-minute necessities from local outdoor gear shops, climbing visitors are spending.
INCREASING PUBLIC HEALTH. And there’s no arguing the public health benefits of getting people outside and engaged in an active pursuit.
Photo courtesy of © Merrick Ales