On May 1, 2015, the Access Fund ROCK Project came to Brooklyn, NY to kick off their NYC tour stop. 30-40 people met up at the Sheep Station, a bar in the Park Slope area, close to the Brooklyn Boulders climbing gym where the next day clinics and a party would take place. A Roundtable Discussion was had to discuss the challenges and possible solutions to educating the growing climbing population.
The assembled group was a like a who’s who in climbing. Among the group were:
- Travis Herbert, education director of the Access Fund and event organizer
- Brady Robinson, executive director of the Access Fund
- Representatives from Black Diamond, sponsor of the ROCK Project.
- Representatives from Brooklyn Boulders climbing gym
- Representatives from The Cliffs climbing gym
- Representatives from the Gunks Climbers’ Coalition:
- Jason Beaupre, Jannette Pazer and Matt Logan
- Representatives from the Gunks climbing community:
- Representatives from the Gunks landowners:
- Numerous notable Gunks climbers and well-known professional climbers:
- my apologies to anyone left off the list.
Commit to the Pact
The objective of the Roundtable was to discuss the unique challenges facing the Gunks and brainstorm ideas on how to educate the climbing community, especially new climbers, on responsible and susstainable climbing. One successful social media campaign the Access Fund has promoted is Commit to the Pact, challenging climbers to take responsibility for the places we climb. Use social media to spread the word, and include the hashtags, #committothepact and #ROCKproject. Learn more about The Pact.
The attendees broke up into 3 groups and discussed 3 sets of questions, then presented their findings to the whole group. Some of the discussion we recap here:
Challenges Unique to the Gunks
- The Gunks is the closest major climbing area to the greater New York metro area with a huge population of 20 million people.
- The Gunks is the ONLY major climbing area within a day’s drive of New York City, concentrating so many climbers at one crag.
- The Gunks is also very popular with hikers, bicyclers and autumn leaf peepers, causing parking lots to fill up in the mornings whenever there is good weekend weather.
- Many residents of NYC don’t have cars and may not have opportunities to get familiar with the outdoors and appropriate ways to behave (e.g., litter, impact).
- An example was how people at Coney Island just dump their trash all over the beach, but in the morning someone cleans it all up.
- Many new climbers aren’t careless on purpose, they just don’t know.
- Many new climbers learn in the gym and via books. Before gyms and books, climbers learned from mentors who were already familiar with the ethics of the area and the outdoors.
- Often people with no experience are being mentored by people with not much more experience than they have.
- The Gunks have an unusually large number of quality climbs with easy grades, attracting more beginners who may not have adequate experience.
- The Gunks are a trad venue, which requires more experience and technical knowledge than bouldering or sport climbing.
Personal Challenges & How We Can Help as Individuals
- A common challenge is getting up the nerve to say something when we see bad behavior.
- When it’s definitely a dangerous safety issue, people don’t have a problem saying something.
- Other issues, like abandoned barking dogs, smoking, or playing music are more uncomfortable for people to speak up about.
- It was suggested to humanize and equalize – don’t make yourself authoritarian but point out that we’re all out to have a good time and sharing in a positive experience.
- One person remarked that any time they offered advice at the Gunks, the recipients were very grateful to receive it. They want guidance.
- We need to lead by example:
- Show best practices yourself: low impact, don’t leave your packs all over the trail, contain your noise, dogs, etc…
- Pick up trash while you walk down the trail, those with you or around you will become aware that it’s the right thing to do.
- Be willing to mentor newer climbers.
- Show your enthusiasm for the outdoor environment, teach people what the various trees, geology, plants, birds, etc., are so they can start to also feel a connection to the natural environment around them. It’s not just a gym in the outdoors.
- Be willing to speak up when it’s a safety issue, in a way that’s conversational, not confrontational.
- Use social media to spread the word.
- Sometimes images can make an impression, e.g., a tree anchor showing the erosion and damage to the roots from impact. People may begin to examine climber impact at every tree anchor after that.
Ideas on Making a Difference
- Social media is a great way to get the message out. Between the pro climbers, gyms, Access Fund, landowners, gear companies and climbing coalitions, we can post about being responsible climbers and share/retweet each other’s posts to amplify the message to a greater number of followers. The Pro climbers are “influencers” in the community and have lots of followers on social media, so their participation is very important.
- Get out the message that you are responsible for yourself. No one is going to clean up your mess for you, no one is going to suddenly appear when you’re in over your head and save you.
- Professional climbers can emphasize stewardship often in their social media postings & blog posts.
- Create a stronger connection between climbing gyms and guide services. Often gyms are uncomfortable teaching technical climbing skills (such as anchors) in the gym, and can refer new climbers to guides who can help teach these skills.
- The Gunks Climbers’ Coalition and landowners like the Mohonk Preserve should also participate in educating the gym community and introduce them to the natural environment where they’ll be climbing.
- Make a presence in the college outing clubs, another source for many new climbers.
- See something? Say something. Offer guidance.
- Include education about the natural environment as well as climbing ethics and safety. Help to make climbers feel more connected with nature and more aware of how to protect it.
We hope that all of you commit to the Pact, practice responsible climbing, and help educate others so we can keep climbing in the beautiful outdoor places that we love.
What other issues and education ideas do you have about responsible climbing? Please add to the discussion in the comments.