“On belay!” A climber shouts and pulls the rope tight as his partner starts climbing below. Five hundred feet below on the valley floor, the town of Index, Washington bustles with weekend activity as paddlers, hikers, climbers, and tourists explore the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Signs welcome tourists to the National Forest, yet what the average visitor does not see is a matrix of private and public lands. Thanks to forward thinking conservationists, much of the land and water we hike, climb, and paddle on is protected. Forest Service roads, once built for the sole purpose of timber harvest, now serve as the main arteries into these wild places.
As climbers top out on the Upper Town Wall of Index, the Wild Sky Wilderness drapes the backdrop of forested slopes and mountains. When this Wilderness was first proposed, over 2,000 acres of private land were within its boundaries. In the last decade, groups such as the Wilderness Land Trust and Forterra have purchased approximately a third of these private lands and prioritized them for conservation. These transactions have relied on the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a federal funding program that allocates fees from oil and gas towards the acquisition of critical lands for open space and recreation purposes. Without the LWCF, new logging roads could be cut through old growth, recreational access closed off, and viewscapes important to the tourism economy compromised.
When the Republican budget recently zeroed out funding for Land & Water Conservation Fund, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell stood up to defend the economic and public benefits of this important program. Jewell, former CEO of Seattle-based REI, understands the value of recreation and conservation and how they go hand in hand.
In Northern California, Shasta-Trinity National Forest and Wilderness Land Trust are partnering with recreationalists and Access Fund to obtain LWCF funding. This acquisition project will protect a critical inholding, adjacent to one of the first-ever federally designated Wilderness areas, from potential development. The inholding also provides ample opportunities for multi-pitch traditional rock climbing, ice climbing, backcountry skiing, and hiking. Acquisitions like this are a win-win for climbing access and Wilderness protection. Without the support for LWCF, these opportunities would likely slip by.
Budget cuts and alternative priorities threaten the LWCF every fiscal year. The federal land agencies that protect and maintain nearly a third of our public lands continue to face cuts that impact conservation and recreation. Common sense projects such as trail work to reduce erosion and provide sustainable climbing access compete for scarce funding. Roads that access our trailheads, crags, and peaks fall into disrepair with little to no funding for improvements.
Despite these challenges, Access Fund and its partners continue to push for solutions, provide expert trail crews, support critical acquisitions, and advocate for access. Without Interior Secretary Jewell’s strong defense of the LWCF, climbers and conservationists alike would lose opportunities to protect the outdoor places we love with future generations.
Climbers scaling the Index Town Walls, escarpments of Castle Crags, or quartzite walls of Harper’s Ferry can thank these conservation-recreation partnerships and leaders like Sally Jewell.
Get tied in to share your voice and join the Access Fund in protecting the places we climb.