Climbing Stewardship: Q&A with Access Fund’s Ty Tyler

When it comes to making a difference for their sport, few can hold their own against the Access Fund. For the past 20 years, this not-for-profit has worked tirelessly in the areas of climbing stewardship, conservation, land acquisition, protection, and education.

I caught up with Ty Tyler for specifics on what Access Fund has been doing in climbing stewardship: 

Alec Ross: Tell me about Access Fund, what is its principal goal?
Ty Tyler: We’re a national organization for climbing advocacy that works to protect access to America’s climbing areas. We make sure that climber’s voices are heard.  Also, we work with national parks about policies such as fixed anchors- a topic that is hotly debated. Many are concerned about the environmental impact bolts are having; Access Fund is here to encourage these kinds of conversations. We also have a revolving loan program, we give to a local climbing organizations to buy climbing areas. They put that money to work, pay it back over time, and we use that money to loan out to other organizations. This money never goes away, but still gets climbing areas into climber’s hands.

AR: What are some major threats to America’s climbers?
TT: Well, there’s numerous threats to climbers. For instance, liability is a huge one. Many landowners are afraid climbers will be hurt and the landowner will be sued. Every state has a different policy. In some states you can’t sue the property owner. Colorado and California, for example, protect the landowner from legal implications. Conversely, Illinois has the opposite policy. In Indiana, there’s no policy for injuries on private property at all. Liability concerns are especially prevalent in Hawaii, where many public lands are closed to climbing specifically because of the liability implication. A concern for the environment is an issue as well. If people are seeing an area being destroyed, they will often close down. So we work with local authorities to educate people on the proper climbing etiquette. 

AR: What stewardship projects is Access Fund currently involved?
TT: ”Adopt a Crag” is a volunteer stewardship program. In it, we work with managers to develop a volunteerism culture within a community. We advertise, assist, and teach local authorities to run projects that develop this culture in almost every state. These projects are anything from trash pick ups to graffiti removal. 

AR: Talk about some recent accomplishments in climbing stewardship.
TT: Many of our current projects revolve around “Adopt a Crag”, but we’ve done several camps at which we train volunteers to do rock word and technical projects. Most of these are done by volunteers groups, but we are trying to move away from this. Land managers have found that volunteers are expensive because they require instruction and education. Many managers are requesting experienced volunteers to avoid this inefficiency. We also have our Conservation team. Ten months a year, one team of two professionals visit climbing areas across the country. Working with volunteers, our team trains and educates them on more technical projects. Right now they’re in the New River Rendezvous. This is a new program, but it has been so successful, I can hardly fill all the requests.

AR: What’s next for Access Fund in the realm of stewardship?
TT: Education. We are gonna start moving to educate climbers that are frequenting our areas and aren’t familiar with the ethics of climbing outside. These climbers are discovering the outdoors through climbing. They go from the gym to the outside, and treat the outside just like the gym. The previous generation found climbing from the outdoors. We’re hoping to host an education summit in the fall that emphasize this point. We plan to bring in the leaders of education, asking questions like: “What can we do?”,”What should we do?” and “Where is the Access Fund’s role in education?”. We also want to see larger stewardship campaigns. Take for instance, at Indian creek, 40 different walls need access. How can we improve the conditions of the entire area quicker? We want to meet with land managers and develop a plan for places such as Indian Creek or Joe’s Valley. These signature locations need dedicated effort. We want to bring in team for a year and do work. This would be more effective than single days of large volunteer groups. We’re still going to do our Adopt a Crag, but we want to move towards professionally operated, experienced volunteer based projects.

Check out the latest at Access Fund here.
Written by Alec Ross