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Arches National Park Developing Formal Climbing, Canyoneering Management Plan


Officials at Arches National Park are developing a formal management plan for climbing and canyoneering in the park. Kurt Repanshek photo of Tower of Babel.

Climbing and bouldering long have been favorite activities in Arches National Park. However, while the park long has allowed these uses to be largely self-regulated, in recent years problems have arisen and now park officials are moving to develop a formal management plan for climbing and canyoneering.

Park officials just launched a public scoping period for a management plan that would protect Arches' incredible rock spans and windows and give rangers some teeth against climbers who scale icons such as Delicate Arch. The decision to get moving on a specific plan guiding technical rock climbing and canyoneering in the park was prompted in general by a surge in those activities in the park, and specifically by an incident in 2006 that garnered national attention.

That incident was Dean Potter's ascent of Delicate Arch. While park officials have internally developed some guidelines for what should go into the management plan, they also want your suggestions.

Here's an outline of what they've been working on:


• Protect and conserve the park’s natural and cultural resources and values, and the integrity of wilderness character for present and future generations.

• Ensure that recreational uses and activities in the park are consistant with its authorizing legislation or proclamation and do not cause unacceptable impacts on park resources and values.


• Protect natural resources, especially sensitive, threatened, or endangered plants, animals, and ecological communities;

• Provide opportunities for forms of visitor enjoyment that are uniquely suited and appropriate to the natural and cultural resources found in the park.

• Engage the climbing community in cooperative stewardship of natural resources and the climbing/canyoneering experience;

• Build a foundation of data (status of natural resources, climbing/canyoneering routes and use patterns, and visitor effects on resource values) as a basis for future decision making

• Provide a framework for a climber education program;

• Provide a clear decision-making framework and action timetable;

• Initiate a continuing planning process that responds to new data and changes over time;

• Assure regular monitoring of use and resources.

Resources and Concerns

Initial internal project scoping indentified the following resources and other concerns for consideration in the environmental assessment (EA):

• Geology and soils

• Vegetation

• Cultural Resources

• Water Resources

• Wildlife and species of special concern

• Visitor use and experience

• Visual Resources

• Park operations

• Wilderness

• Socioeconomics

Overview of Process

Project milestones include (*indicates opportunities for public comment):

• Public scoping period*

• Preparation of EA

• Public review of EA*

• Analysis of public comment

• Preparation of decision document

• Announcement of decision.


The following are some additional issues that have been identified through internal and preliminary project scoping:

• Continue with current management

• Define Arches NP climbing ethics

• Sport climbing

• Establishment of new routes via a permit system

• Establish trail systems to and through routes

• Commerical guiding for rock climbing and canyoneering

• Establish use levels for each activity via a permit system

• Bouldering

• Installation/Replacement of bolts, anchors, and software

• Rock grooving

• Group size limits

• Rescue considerations

You can submit your thoughts and ideas for this plan at this site.

Comments are due by August 10.


There is a strong tradition of climbing in our national parks, whether it's big wall climbing in Yosemite, or mountaineering in Denali, Grand Teton, Mt Rainier, etc. It's an activity that frankly isn't terribly popular compared to the millions of tourists who visit without even thinking of climbing a rock.

The climbers themselves have a strong sense of protection for the resource. They predominantly practice "clean climbing" techniques using as few permanent devices as possible. I haven't heard of any complaints when a popular climbing route at Pinnacles NM was closed because a California condor mating pair hatched an egg at the top of the route. I think for the most part climbers have been staying off of Devils Tower during a certain period sacred to the local native tribe.

Arches however is a different case. The sandstone isn't as durable as granite and there is the issue of standard chalk being very visible on the Navajo and Entrada sandstone. Still - I haven't really heard of any sensitive species nesting at the top of sandstone fins at Arches. I don't think it's that much of an issue.

Rock climbing at its best is an inappropriate activity for a National Park. It is intrusive, destructive, and trashy; just ask the BLM for a copy of the study they did along Indian Creek. Since you are unwilling (unable?) to consider a No Climbing alternative, then I favor the Regulatory alternative because it will give the NPS greater authority to enforce, protect, and care for the beautiful landscape that is the reason behind Arches NP. Before routes are permitted, NPS should inspect them for threatened and endangered plants and animal habitats, archaeology, and paleontology. Indian tribes in whose traditional use area Arches is situated should also be given a chance to express their concerns before routes are opened to permitting. No route should be used where these sensitive resources are present.

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