Forest Service, Park Service rock climbing proposals worry both climbers and wilderness advocates

New guidance from federal land managers seems to require an inventory and review of all existing bolts and fixed anchors in wilderness areas

Proposed climbing management policies by the Forest Service and National Park Service would require review of fixed anchors and bolts in wilderness areas.
Mark Reis/Special to The Colorado Sun

Heavily anticipated plans to revamp rock climbing management in parks and wilderness areas contain what appears to be a call for a coast-to-coast inventory of every bolt and anchor in designated wilderness worries climbers. The draft proposals unveiled by the National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service on Thursday also contain a process that allows land managers to approve bolts as permanent installations, which troubles conservation groups. 

Climbers have been rallying to protect fixed anchors in wildlands after federal land managers earlier this year began classifying fixed bolts and chains as permanent installations that are not allowed in wilderness areas. The Access Fund in March called the potential policy banning fixed anchors “a war on wilderness climbing.” Meanwhile, wilderness supporters have been decrying anchors as “the defacement and degradation of wilderness” and “the proverbial crack in the armor for wilderness.” 

Colorado’s D.C. lawmakers — like Sen. John Hickenlooper and Rep. Joe Neguse — have joined the climbers with proposed legislation directing the Forest Service and the Interior Department to create a uniform policy for all wilderness areas that allows the placement of permanently fixed anchors for climbing. 

That draft guidance landed Thursday and throws a new log on the fire fueling the climbing bolt war. The proposed policies by the Forest Service and Park Service note that climbing is “a legitimate use” of wilderness and the use of fixed anchors “can fulfill important wilderness recreational purposes and can help preserve wilderness character by providing opportunities for primitive and unconfined recreation.” But it also defines fixed anchors as “installations,” which are banned in designated wilderness by the 1964 Wilderness Act. 

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