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FRB Archived Interview
Access Fund

Late March, 2002

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FRB: You're an advocacy group...
          what does that mean?

Access Fund: ad·vo·ca·cy   n. The act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; active support.
The Access Fund is an organization that argues in favor of keeping climbing areas open and preserving the climbing environment. A large part of advocating for keeping climbing areas open involves influencing land management policy (both public and private). The Access Fund believes that the key to influencing land management is cooperation. Discussions between climbers and land managers will result in climbing-management policies based on mutual agreement. Examples of our specific advocacy efforts include the following:
Work with federal lands agencies on a reasonable policy for the use of fixed anchors in Wilderness. Testimony to a Congressional hearing opposing the extension of the Recreation Fee Demonstration Program ("Fee Demo"), and successful work with other recreation advocacy groups to prevent Fee Demo from being extended for four more years. Congressional lobbying to increase funding for federal land agencies for recreation and resource protection. Work with land managers and local climbers to protect archeological values at the Happy Boulders (CA), Castle Rock Ranch (ID), and the Road 18 Caves (OR). Support for resource protection, trail improvements, and climber education at Hueco Tanks, TX; work towards easing of restrictions through site-specific protection of sensitive resources. Support of Utah Open Lands and the Castle Rock Collaboration in efforts to preserve the traditional climbers camping area and access to Castleton Tower near Moab, Utah. Opposition to new fees, insurance requirements, and rescue cost recovery efforts in Denali National Park that discriminate against climbers. Work with Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition on a new management plan, resource surveys, and climber education. Work to restore access to one of the best bouldering areas in the southeast: Horse Pens 40, AL. Ouray Ice Park, CO: $5,000 grant to upgrade supply system & conserve water. New River Gorge, WV: work with New River Alliance of Climbers and National Park Service on a local climbing management plan. Yosemite, CA: work with National Park Service on implementation of the Yosemite Valley Plan, protection of Camp 4, climbing around Yosemite Falls, and on preserving affordable camping opportunities. Castle Rock Ranch, ID: work with state officials on concepts for climbing management plan for this soon-to-be state park. Boulder Mountain Parks, CO: work with parks officials on reopening of certain areas to new bolted routes, and to prevent unwarranted restrictions on bouldering at certain locations.

FRB: Who does an Advocacy group answer to?

Access Fund: While The Access Fund advocates on behalf of the interests of an estimated one million technical rockclimbers and mountaineers nationwide, Access Fund members are our guiding light when it comes to policy accountability. However, we cannot please all of our members all of the time. Many of the issues we deal with are controversial, such as fixed anchors in Wilderness or the Recreational Fee Demonstration Program. Thus, after listening to the opinions of our members on such policy issues, we also look to our experienced and extremely capable board of directors to develop our various positions on policy issues. The Access Fund Board of Directors establishes organizational policy and ensures that our mission and vision are fulfilled. Our board is composed of 23 volunteers (plus two honorary members) who represent all viewpoints of the climbing community and who are committed to defending climbing freedoms, preserving climbing access, and protecting the climbing environment. All of our board meetings are open to the public. For dates and locations, call (303) 545-6772.

FRB: Who started the Access Fund, and
          how long as it been in operation?

Access Fund: The Access Fund was created in 1987 by the Access Committee of the American Alpine Club, as a “bank” of funds to buy land or otherwise pay for the costs of keeping climbing areas open. In 1990, the Access Fund separated from the AAC and incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, to better focus on advocacy for climbers. Our mission is “to keep climbing areas open, and to conserve the climbing environment.” Thus our most basic purpose is to preserve access for climbers, and to make sure that the natural resources we depend on for our activities remain in good shape, so that the climbing experience is not degraded. The Founding President of the Access Fund was Armando Menocal, a well-known attorney and advocate for public interest causes. Also on our first board of directors were folks like Ric Accomazzo, Mariah Cranor and Randy Vogel, well-known climbers from the 1970s and ‘80s. Now, the AF has active climbers like Chris McNamara, Kurt Smith, Conrad Anker, and Sam Lightner on the board. We also have a number of leading boulderers who serve as advisors to the Access Fund. These include Chris Sharma, David Graham, Lisa Rands and Tommy Caldwell. Look for these folks in our most recent advertisements and a series of posters which support our efforts to save access to bouldering areas and promote a good conservation ethic among boulderers.

FRB: You guys “buy” land or crags or access to crags.
          Who owns it after you buy it?

Access Fund: Long-term ownership of land we acquire depends on various circumstances. We own three climbing areas in Colorado, but our preference is to convey land to a public agency. This can be tricky however, because we want to make sure we have a say in how climbing will be managed, and because there’s a cost associated with owning land- especially when it’s being used for recreation. These factors alone can limit ownership options. Buying climbing areas and preserving access really distinguishes us from other organizations. Since 1990, the Access Fund’s land acquisitions program has protected more than 3,400 acres of climbing and open space lands valued at over $3 million dollars. Sometimes we’ll buy land, or accept a donation of land with climbing resources. At other times, we’ll partner with an organization like a land trust or local climbers group to acquire or otherwise protect land. Many of the areas that we acquire are threatened with development and would probably be closed without some form of direct intervention. A good example of this is the Boat Rock bouldering area near Atlanta. We just gave the Southeastern Climbers Coalition $10,000 to help purchase 7.5 acres. This parcel contains fantastic bouldering but it is also a prime target for developers.

FRB: What is the AF's agenda?

Access Fund: Our “agenda” depends on what issue you are talking about. For Access Fund position statements on various issues, see our website or here. Alternatively, consult our E-News and newsletter, The Vertical Times, to see where we stand on issues and what we have been doing to preserve climbing. Climbers can also gauge our “agenda” by looking at what we’ve done in the past. We’ve compiled a list “The 55 Ways the Access Fund Has Made a Difference in 2001” which can be found here. Various Access Fund policy positions include the following:
The Access Fund urges all climbers to recognize and to limit the impacts of their climbing practices on the environment, other climbers, land managers, and other users. “Chopping” or removing bolts invariably results in damage to the resource and should not occur until and unless a consensus has been reached between all parties. Chipping or gluing of holds on natural rock faces causes unacceptable resource impacts. Climbing may involve the use of fixed anchors, including expansion bolts or pitons, and their use has long been recognized as legitimate. The use of fixed anchors is often necessary for safe climbing. Climbers have the knowledge needed to install, replace, or remove fixed anchors. When placing fixed anchors, climbers should limit their impact by all reasonable means. All fixed anchors should be camouflaged, in accordance with local practice, to further reduce their minimal visual impact. Climbers should refrain from placing bolts where removable protection is feasible and safe. The most effective way to deal with access issues is to get involved with the Access Fund at the local level. If you have a local climbing organization, get involved and support its efforts to promote access to climbing areas. If you do not have a local club, form one immediately and contact the Access Fund for help in getting your local organization started. Above all, climb responsibly. Show respect not only for other climbers, but also for land managers and other users. Never trespass on private land and respect all closures on public lands and report all questionable closures to the Access Fund and to local climbing organizations.

FRB: What are the procedures involved in getting an area
          considered for purchase?

Access Fund: Every land acquisition is unique because no two climbing areas are the same. Each area must be evaluated on its own merits but generally we consider the overall “threat” to climbing access (i.e., such as the likelihood of the property being sold to developers), current ownership, cost, location, significance of the climbing, ownership of surrounding property, and infrastructure needs like trails, toilets, signs, etc. Occasionally there may be other options in lieu of a direct purchase such as an easement or donation. In any case, figuring out who will ultimately own and manage the land is crucial. Like most non-profits, we have to use our limited resources wisely. We also have to balance acquisitions with other priorities since acquiring land is not the only thing we do.

FRB: The AF recently “launched a bouldering campaign.”
          What does that mean to the typical boulderer?

Access Fund: The overall goal of our Bouldering Campaign is to preserve opportunities for bouldering. That alone should mean a great deal to boulderers. Other objectives of the campaign are aimed at educating climbers about ways to reduce impacts (reducing impacts = keeping areas open), and educating land managers about bouldering so they can manage it in the least restrictive manner possible. There are many areas around the country where access to bouldering is threatened. Take Bishop for example. We just gave the BLM (the managing agency for the area) $9,700 to help manage bouldering on the Volcanic Tablelands. Without this money, the BLM could quite easily restrict access to prime bouldering areas due to “resource impact” concerns. Bear in mind that Bishop is now one of the most popular bouldering areas in the country with 16,000 climber visits last year alone. That’s a lot of people and quite frankly, the BLM have been overwhelmed. Our money will help pay for things like toilets in the climbers campground, and cultural resource surveys to identify sensitive sites that the BLM are required by law to protect. We’re also looking at acquiring a major bouldering area, like Horse Pens-40, AL and we’ve already helped to acquire the Saddle Boulders near Donner Summit, CA and Boat Rock, GA. Locally, we spent $8,000 for a restoration project to mitigate resource impacts (primarily caused by years of heavy bouldering use) at Flagstaff Mountain near Boulder. All of these efforts keep bouldering areas open which is something that all boulderers should care about even if they haven’t seen direct AF intervention at their favorite area.

FRB: Can you briefly explain what the AF
          grants program entails.

Access Fund: The guidelines for our grants program can be viewed on our website. In 2002, we’ve budgeted $120,000 to pay for things like land acquisitions, access easements, trail construction and maintenance projects, informational kiosks and parking improvements, sanitation facilities, climber brochures and educational materials, and support for local climber organizations. Climbers everywhere are the real beneficiaries of the grants program since the money is used to keep climbing areas open and conserve the environment.

FRB: You sponsor cool programs like 'Adopt-a-Crag Day' but then seem to not get this information to climbers. What's that about?

Access Fund: Actually, we do get information to climbers about our Adopt-a-Crag Day, both before and after the event. The numbers evidence an impressive awareness among climbers regarding this unique event: climbers and volunteers across the United States celebrated the 2nd annual Adopt-a-Crag day at 67 areas in 25 states. Over 2,000 people united to build and restore 150 miles of trail and clear thousands of bags of trash from crags. While we hope to increase the number of events and restoration projects for next year’s Adopt-a-Crag, we’re proud of last year’s achievements. Erosion control and trash removal remained the focus of most events in 2001 as climbers worked side by side with land managers. Areas saw improvement in trail maintenance and construction, chalk cleanups, realignment of switchbacks, retaining wall and water bar construction, parking area resurfacing, mulching and stabilization of staging areas, cliff top enhancement, fixed anchor replacement, and much more. Most event organizers listed enhanced public relations with land managers and the improved image of climbers as their number one success. Adopt-a-Crag Day is aimed at educating the climbing community about the importance of stewardship and of teaching climbers the skills needed to maintain their local climbing areas (it’s also a way for us to give back to the climbing areas we care deeply about).

FRB: Your mission statement states you are a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to keeping climbing areas open and conserving the climbing environment. How do you reconcile that the fact that hiking and climbing is destructive to the environment.

Access Fund: Conserving natural resources and the climbing environment should be a high priority for all climbers. However, the notion that hiking and climbing are somehow “destructive” to the environment is nonsense. We would agree however, that hiking and climbing can have an “impact” upon the environment. This is why the Access Fund urges all climbers to recognize and to limit the impacts of their climbing practices on the environment. This is also one of the reasons why we encourage an ethic of strong conservation values among climbers. More importantly though, we believe the impacts associated with hiking and climbing can be reduced and mitigated to acceptable levels. For example, staying on designated trails, packing out litter and waste, and following clean climbing practices are all ways to minimize impacts. We also strongly discourage practices such as manufacturing holds, gluing, and chopping bolts due to unacceptable resource impacts. We believe the vast majority of climbers are responsible individuals committed to cooperative stewardship of the environment, as evidenced by the Access Fund’s long history of trail work, area cleanups, and respect for seasonal wildlife restrictions. It’s also very important to maintain a sense of balance and perspective when discussing the subject of “impact” to the environment. One has to be very specific about defining impacts so 1) they can be properly understood, 2) they can be properly mitigated, and 3) that land managers and other users are not unnecessarily provoked to hysteria about negligible recreational impacts caused, for example, by climbing or bouldering. The Access Fund does more than any other organization to address recreational impacts that are, in part, caused by climbers. These preservation efforts do not conflict with our efforts to maintain climbing access. Again: reducing impacts = keeping climbing areas open. Our mission statement seeks to “conserve the climbing environment.” There is nothing contradictory with our advocating for a recreation group that at times can impact the environment it uses. If anything, the fact that we seek to conserve the climbing environment acknowledges that we sometimes do impact the environment, but that we are being responsible about it by working to mitigate such impacts so that our use does not alter the environment negatively for future generations of rockclimbers, hikers, butterfly catchers, and bird-watchers(whoever. While we work to keep agencies honest and fair in their public land resource management, we also dedicate a significant amount of time and energy (and grant funding) to those agencies to help them do their jobs more effectively and equitably. The Access Fund is proud of its record of promoting environmental responsibility. In addition to Adopt-a-Crag, some of our conservation efforts include the following: The Access Fund Conservation Program -- focuses on expanding the Access Fund's science base, broadening education outreach on wildlife issues, and facilitating research projects with partner organizations. Climbing and Natural Resources Management -- A 60-page publication which for the first time provides an overview of studies, climbing management plans and reports related to climbing and natural resource management. Project Vertical Veg – In this unique venture, The Access Fund joined forces with the Californian Native Plant Society and Joshua Tree National Park to devise ways to assess climbing impacts on desert plant communities. New survey techniques have been developed and JT’s informal system of trails were revised. A report of this work is available from Joshua Tree National Park. National information for climbers on wildlife closures -- Each year the Access Fund lists information on seasonal climbing restrictions to protect cliff nesting raptors and wildlife at over 90 climbing locations. Climbers can access this information through the Access Fund web site, and our January newsletter. By providing contact telephone numbers and linked web sites, climbers can find out more information about whether their destination has some form of restriction before traveling. Raptors and Climbers -- This specialist publication provides guidelines on how to manage climbing in areas with cliff-nesting raptors. Produced in 1997 in consultation with biologists and land managers this publication has been widely distributed to public lands managers and climbing organizations. This project is an initiative aimed at raising understanding on climbing management and wildlife protection. Climbing Management: A Guide to Climbing Issues and the Production of a Climbing Management Plan -- This 90-page document serves as a resource to those dealing with climbing management issues or preparing a climbing management plan. The goal of this project is to share information and encourage greater consistency in climbing management in the US. Two years in the making, Climbing Management contains over 50 illustrations and previously unassembled information on topics such as climbing and cultural resource protection, bouldering management issues, practices to mitigate impacts to vegetation, liability, education and outreach. Access Fund Grants Program -- Each year the Access Fund provides grants from $200 to $10,000 towards projects that enhance climbing opportunities and conserve the cliff environment. Grant categories include: conservation, research, monitoring, education, facilities, and acquisition. The Access Fund provided $138,000 to 32 projects in 2000; over $70,000 in 2001 to 20 projects; and in our latest grant cycle we gave more than $30K in our first Climbing Preservation Grants cycle of 2002. Eight of nine applications were approved this cycle totaling $33,980 in funds for trail improvements, preservation of private lands from development, conservation easements and solutions to waste disposal problems in the mountains. The Access Fund has budgeted $120K in grants this year. We're proud to fund these important initiatives on behalf of our members, corporate partners, volunteers and the entire climbing community.

FRB: In one of your general policy statements you suggest “getting involved in local climbing organizations and supporting its efforts to promote access to climbing areas.” You go on to say that if there’s not a local club “form one immediately” and contact the AF for help. Can you please explain the process involved.

Access Fund: One of the things we firmly believe is that access is best preserved through local activism and relationship building with land managers, other user groups, etc. We support local activism by helping climbers form coalitions or “local climber organizations.” Sometimes a group wants to incorporate as a legal entity and we help them through the process. Other times, we simply offer advice and help to get a group up and running. Once a group establishes itself, we offer ongoing assistance and resources to help them succeed.

FRB: Partnerships and cooperation are basic tenets of the AF. How does the typical climber put these practices in their climbing?

Access Fund: The Access Fund has discovered that, in the cause of preserving access, some “techniques” work better than others. In general, climbing access is supported by climbers having a good public image. Where climbers are perceived as being cooperative, law-abiding, and inclined to work with land managers or private property owners, there are fewer access problems. It’s important for people to know that climbers will fight to preserve their climbing areas and opportunities, but it’s also important for people to know that climbers are, by and large, reasonable folks who will play within the rules and take care of the areas they care about. Also, climbers have a more powerful voice when they work together. An organized group always makes a bigger and longer-lasting impression than a few impassioned individual voices. Partnerships means climbers working together, as well as with other interest groups and land managers. Partnerships get people invested in issues and practices of mutual concern, and help forge compromise solutions to problems. Climbers can put these concepts to work in their climbing by:
(1) joining a local climbers organization.
(2) starting a local climbers group, if one does not already exist.
(3) abiding by rules, or working with the AF to change the rules if they are unreasonable or unnecessary.
(4) turning out for volunteer events such as cleanups and trail work.
(5) making donations to support use of facilities such as campgrounds, even if donations are not required.
(6) approaching land managers and property owners about developing agreements which preserve climbing and minimize resource impacts, and
(7) by keeping a low profile – leave the boom box at home, keep the voice level low, be courteous to other visitors to the area.

FRB: A complaint among the Front Range bouldering community is that the AF seems to have neglected us in your work. How do you respond to that.

Access Fund: It’s disappointing to hear that some boulderers along the Front Range think the Access Fund has “neglected” them. Perhaps people just don’t know what we’ve been doing in this region. We’ve paid for trail improvements at the Horsetooth Reservoir area near Fort Collins. We’ve paid thousands of dollars to improve trails and restore damaged soils and vegetation on Flagstaff Mountain in Boulder. We’ve worked behind the scenes with our contacts in the National Park Service to prevent an official backlash to all the “development” of bouldering in Rocky Mountain National Park. We’re working right now to ensure continued access to the Morrison boulders. And we’re closely involved with the planning for Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, which could include proposals to prohibit roped climbing and/or bouldering in some areas of Mountain Parks. (We have heard a rumor that some folks think we are horse-trading bouldering access for bolting privileges – nothing could be further from the truth. We will adamantly oppose closure or restrictions on climbing access for all types of climbing opportunities in Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks.)Climbers who criticize the Access Fund for not doing enough are usually not members of the AF – otherwise they’d know, from receiving our newsletter and news bulletins, what we’ve really been doing to support climbing and preserve access. Membership in the AF costs only $20 per year – a pretty small investment to make for a really important cause. No one else is fighting for climbers like we are. Climbers should put their money where their mouths are and support the Access Fund. Either that or try to solve their own problems without our help.

FRB: The access to the Damnation Boulders is in question. The fisherman cross over through the “No-Trespassing” sign and aren’t told by the Water Board to leave. But boulderers have been told they are trespassing and they must leave. What’s the story with the access to the DamNation Boulders? (Gross Dam Boulders).

Access Fund: In the case of the Damnation boulders, the actual property boundaries are uncertain and can only be determined with further review of accurate maps. Gross Reservoir is owned and operated by Denver Water, Colorado’s largest water utility. It appears the Damnation boulders (since they are downstream and east of the dam) may be on Boulder County Open Space property or a mix of Open Space and Denver Water property. Neither of these property owners are particularly climber friendly, and in the case of Denver Water, they have the right to exclude people from their property since it’s privately owned. They may allow some access to South Boulder Creek from their property but these points need to be figured out. Fishing is allowed at the Reservoir and of course, fisherman pay a license fee which may get them preferential treatment. We’re not saying this is fair; we’re only pointing out that this is how things often play out. Also, Denver Water employees may be accustomed to seeing fisherman whereas they may view climbers with suspicion. Occasionally these issues can be resolved quickly; sometimes it can take years of negotiating. In any case, the Access Fund will investigate further the climbing access situation at the Damnation boulders, and report through our internet newsletter and web site what we learn or are able to work out. Sometimes climbers are their own worst enemies in terms of preserving access. Although we do not know if this is the case at the Damnation boulders, there is a pattern of area “development” that often leads to problems. It goes something like this: Climbers discover a really cool new area, with lots of potential routes or problems. Climbers ignore No Trespassing signs, or assume the new area is on public land, or piss off the landowner by refusing to leave when asked to do so. Climbers tell all their friends about the new area, who tell other friends, etc. V14 is established at the new area, and photos get published in the magazines and on the Internet. Hundreds of climbers show up over the next few months to check out the new area. The area starts to show signs of use: unplanned trails, tape wads, cigarette butts, dog and human excrement, soil compaction, loss of vegetation, etc. The property owner starts worrying about liability. Climbers are perceived as being unwelcome, and access for climbing is banned or limited. Climbers call the Access Fund for help. This pattern could be avoided if climbers would contact the Access Fund with questions about land ownership, etc., in advance of problems.

FRB: Thanks for the interview.

Access Fund: You're welcome, Thank you.

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