Recently the NEOCC submitted formal recommendations to the Metro Parks, Serving Summit County (MPSSC) Board of Park Commissioners concerning climbing access and stewardship. On Wednesday, November 17 a group of ~10 local climbers attended the noon Board of Commissioners meeting. Two of us were allowed into the small meeting room and the rest waited outside in support. While no decisions were made that day, it was a chance for us to establish a dialogue with the park service and will hopefully be the beginning of working towards a mutually agreeable solution to the lack of climbing in the park. NE Ohio has over 72,000 acres of park land, an estimated 40,000 climbing participants and only one outdoor climbing area. Climbing is part of a $730 billion Outdoor Recreation Economy which generates 6.5 million jobs, and with 58% of Ohio college students planning to leave the state within the first few years of finishing school (their #2 reason for doing so is to find a place that is “active, exciting and fun”) we need our local parks to take a leadership role in establishing climbing management plans.
Dear Sir or Madame,
I write today on behalf of the Northeast Ohio Climbers Coalition (NEOCC) to make several formal recommendations pertaining to rock climbing and stewardship within Metro Parks Serving Summit County (MPSSC). It is our belief that allowing technical rock climbing will have many benefits and can be done in a safe, cost effective manner that aligns with the MPSSC mission to provide the public with safe, outdoor recreational opportunities.
Who We Are
The NEOCC is a local organization whose mission is to ensure public access to rock climbing areas by working with the climbing community, authorities, landowners and property managers while encouraging environmental conservation and responsible climbing. We are a local affiliate of the Access Fund, the national advocacy organization representing over 1.6 million climbers nationwide.
Introduction and Purpose
As part of its core mission, MPSSC has long permitted the public to participate in numerous recreational activities within its reservations, however climbing has been prohibited leaving a large amount of potential high quality resources unutilized. Climbing is considered a “welcome and historical use” by the National Park Service, US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish & Wildlife Service, and Army Corp of Engineers. It is also a low impact activity with more than 6.5 million annual U.S. participants. In the last several years, participation in urban activities such as road running and biking has remained flat or decreased, while nature based activities have seen significant growth . The sport of rock climbing grew 6% in 2008 , which translates to over 40,000 participants in Northeast Ohio. With the increase in recreational use, many national and state parks and forests throughout the United States have implemented climbing management guidelines to prevent user conflict, environmental degradation and to ensure an enjoyable experience for every climbing enthusiast and visitor.
In the section that follows, the NEOCC makes several recommendations pertaining to rock climbing access and the stewardship of its participants. Each recommendation is followed by its associated justifications. These recommendations preserve the historic, cultural and environmental resources of the MPSSC and ensure the park’s core policies are adhered to.
Recommended Plan of Action
Recommendation #1: Permit rock climbing in designated areas of the Gorge Metro Park.
• The NEOCC is willing to assist in any associated costs such as the purchase of new signs.
• Nationwide research by the Access Fund found no record of any legal action ever having been filed in this country in which an injured climber sued a landowner or an agency on the basis of premises liability. This is a result of the broad liability limitations that are provided for landowners, land managers, and agencies that permit and provide for recreation opportunities such as climbing.
• Caving, kayaking, mountain biking, canyoneering, and rock climbing are but a few examples of the types of activities that fall under heightened scrutiny for risk management. In an age when outdoor activities have been overly sensationalized by the media, the perception of risk associated with these activities is often overstated and misunderstood.
• Climbing tourism contributes to the economic vitality of a community by boosting retail, restaurant, hotel, gas and grocery sales.
Recommendation #2: Organize a small, informal climbing committee composed of park management & staff, several to-be-nominated NEOCC members, and the regional coordinator for the Access Fund. The committee would meet annually, or on an as-needed basis, to establish and organize volunteer events, respond to management concerns, establish priorities for the year, develop a climbing management plan, review climbing policy recommendations and adjust policy to meet any new conditions or concerns.
• Establishes a process for management plan creation, as well as review and revision if needed.
• Allows for ongoing communication, exchange of ideas, and problem resolution.
• Will help to plan efficient, targeted maintenance and clean-up efforts by volunteers.
• A united recreation community, which includes climbers and other recreation groups can be a powerful, effective voice for increased federal, state and local funding.
Recommendation #3: Implement a planned trail system for accessing the boulders and cliffs of the designated climbing areas to prevent the use of unofficial trails.
• Unofficial trails cause erosion and damage to plants and trees.
• A trail network can be laid out that provides access into areas of interest while reducing environmental impact. All users must be encouraged and educated to stay on established trails.
• Legitimate use of these areas will discourage the vandalism and other illegal activities currently occurring.
• The NEOCC is available to help with the associated labor of creating the new trail system.
Recommendation #4: Organize an annual volunteer day at each area, which includes general trash clean-up, graffiti removal, maintenance of trails or any other projects deemed desirable by MPSSC.
• Provides for on-going efforts to maintain climbing resources and keeps climbers aware and actively involved.
• Builds community support, investment and stewardship in the park and provides for maintenance that the park might not otherwise be able to complete.
Recommendation #5: Add information to the existing kiosks at the parking areas including general safety and conservation messages, local climbing policy, area specific education on particular hazards, environmental concerns and code of conduct expected by all users.
• Education and communication is crucial to explain what is going on, as well as how climbers and other users can help. The vast majority of users will support guidelines if they are informed and understand them.
Thank you for your time and consideration. We will be attending the November 17th Board of Park Commissioners meeting to discuss the recommendations and how to proceed.