The Best Intentions…

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The Best Intentions…

Recently, approximately 500 feet of new trail was built between two small cliffs at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park without proper authorization by the National Park Service. While the trail builders likely had the best intentions – wanting to improve access between Balcony and Balcony Jr. and some of the nearby boulders- this action was illegal, damaged public resources, and could put climbing access in jeopardy. Mid Atlantic Climbers has been in contact with Park Rangers about this trail and are working to maintain a positive relationship between the park and the climbing community.

Topo photos at Balcony and Balcony Jr Rocks. IndyVision Photography 2016.
Illegal Trail built at Balcony and Balcony Jr. IndyVision Photography 2016.

Accessing Climbs in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

Both rock climbing and bouldering are allowed at Harpers Ferry. Since this is public land, visitors generally allowed to travel freely throughout the park, even off trail. Harpers Ferry, as a National Historical Park, has a mandate to preserve the historical resources of the the park, and many people visit to step back in time to the Civil War era. Before a formal trail can be built, a thorough assessment of historical and natural resources is made by the National Park Service to determine if the trail is needed and in balance with the park’s greater mission. For example, the Maryland Heights Overlook trail has been redesigned several times in recent years to accommodate the number of visitors and to limit human impact like erosion and damage to sensitive resources. .

Photo Credit HFNHP
Photo Credit HFNHP 2017

What can you do?

Public lands belong to all Americans, and we must actively work to protect and preserve them. As climbers we are primarily concerned with accessing cliffs and boulders, but we are also part of a larger community. We are responsible for our own actions, and must follow the rules of the land managers. When thinking of making improvements to a climbing resource, first think if those actions are in line with current climbing best practices and the rules of the land manager. For instance, chipping holds is both against the standards of the climbing community and illegal on public lands; bolts are widely accepted by the climbing community, but are regulated in many areas.

  • Think before you act: try to reach out to other climbing organizations like the Access Fund or the local climbing organization that works in that climbing area.
  • If you see someone doing something that looks out of place at a climbing area, ask the person(s) what they are doing and if they have specific permission or the training to do so safely.
  • Report vandalism and violations ASAP to the park’s Dispatch Office at 301-714-2235.  Mid Atlantic Climbers works with land managers on graffiti and trash removal projects throughout the year.

Last, consider speaking up in favor of keeping public lands in public hands. As you may have heard, some lawmakers favor the transfer of federal public lands to state governments – which ultimately could lead to the sale of America’s great outdoors to private interests. Go to to let your legislators know that you are against giving away our national heritage.