Threats to Archaeological Resources Lead To Climbing Area Closure in Zion National Park

Zion National Park officials are closing a climbing area near the Court of Patriarchs due to threats to archaeological materials. NPS photo.

"Social" trails, too much chalk, and even climbing hardware left in place have prompted Zion National Park officials to close a climbing area to protect archaeological resources from damage.

Affected by the closure is an area of the park known as the "Practice Cliffs," which is just north of the Court of the Patriarchs. The closure is scheduled to take effect June 22. Other climbing routes in the same vicinity will remain open unless additional impacts to the archeological resources are identified.

The closed areas will be clearly marked with signs and barriers.

Beginning in 1994, park archeologists created baseline standards to assess impacts and disturbances to archeological resources in the area known as the “Practice Cliffs.” Over the years an increase of human-caused impacts has been documented. Specific impacts of concern are social trails, installation of climbing hardware and use of chalk.

"Social" trails are routes that go off established trails. Not only do they trample vegetation, but they can lead to erosion problems, loss of cultural deposits, accumulation of debris and vegetation, and damage to cultural remnants.

Installation of climbing hardware has resulted in damage to archeological sites and creates a defined route that might lead to future damage by continued use. Climbing chalk on archeological features introduces chemicals and oils to sensitive surfaces and can lead to an increase of erosion.

Park archeologists will continue to monitor the closures to provide accurate data and to ensure compliance.

While recreational climbing can be a challenging and rewarding activity, park officials say the sensitive resources in Zion require protective measures to ensure the preservation of the park’s cultural heritage.