Summit Stresses Sustainability in Climbing

By Aaron Parlier

Climbers hang from rock roof

Attendees hang from Prospector’s Roof for a group photo during the two-day Access Fund climbing summit. Photo by Zachary Lesh-Huie

In April, the Access Fund, a national nonprofit advocacy group that promotes climbing and conservation, held a summit and workshop on sustainable climbing management at Breaks Interstate Park along the border of Virginia and Kentucky.

The two-day workshop was centered on how rock climbing is growing in the Appalachian region and how climbers and land managers can work together to ensure that the sport has a positive environmental and economic impact.

Nearly 50 climbing advocates, representatives from local climbing organizations and universities, local community leaders and land managers attended from across the East Coast. Through round-room discussions, presentations and demonstrations, attendees explored the upsides and challenges of managing climbing, including wildlife and cliff ecology, fixed anchor replacement, stewardship, trails and a host of other topics.

Brian G. Clark of Eastern Kentucky University presented the results of economic impact surveys conducted in the Red River Gorge in Kentucky and Chattanooga, Tenn., which show that regions in Appalachia with public access to world-class climbing can see substantial local economic benefits. A similar study is underway at the New River Gorge in West Virginia.

Breaks Interstate Park Superintendent Austin Bradley told attendees he was excited to see increasing visitation from climbers, whitewater paddlers and other outdoor recreation enthusiasts. Zachary Lesh-Huie with the Access Fund discussed how economic benefits from outdoor recreation at Breaks could boost local business income and park visitation alike.

Visitors to Breaks Interstate Park can experience one of the deepest river gorges in the East, world-class kayaking, and a variety of park amenities and activities. Climbers are treated to high-quality, interesting southern sandstone with a number of easily accessible route-climbing opportunities.

Workshops and summits such as this one aim to ensure that as climbing visitation increases, measures to mitigate impacts and to sustainably develop new and exciting climbing routes are established. To learn more about sustainable climbing management, visit


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