Local Climbers Call on Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to Restore Access

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Hundreds of climbers in the mid-Atlantic region urge the Park to develop a collaborative Climbing Management Plan

Credit Mark “Indy” Kochte.

Hundreds of climbers in the mid-Atlantic region are urging Harpers Ferry National Historical Park to lift its current climbing closures and develop a collaborative Climbing Management Plan based on public input and best practices. In the past three months, Mid Atlantic Climbers (MAC) and partner organizations have collected more than five hundred emails and postcards from the local climbing community urging the Park to restore access.

Harpers Ferry, located on the border of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, is important to providing access to the outdoors for the DC metro region. Since 2017, MAC and the Access Fund (AF), a national climbing conservation organization, have been working to restore climbing opportunities for Maryland Heights and in the Virginia and West Virginia sections of the Park.

“Harpers Ferry is a significant climbing resource in the mid-Atlantic region, providing opportunities for traditional climbing, top roping, and bouldering for new and experienced climbers alike. The temporary closure of Maryland Heights has eliminated the opportunity for multi-pitch climbing that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the state of Maryland,” says Chris Irwin, President of Mid Atlantic Climbers.

In the fall of 2017, MAC and AF were disheartened to learn of climbing management changes in the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park’s Superintendent’s Compendium, Section 13, which included the closure of all rock climbing and bouldering activities in the Virginia and West Virginia sections of the park. In 2018 the Park also issued a temporary closure to climbing on Maryland Heights due to a landslide and construction vehicle traffic on Sandy Hook Road, which remains in effect today. However, the landslide is not located near the climbing areas identified in the temporary closure, and the park never closed the Maryland Heights hiking trail to the public.

These restrictions were issued without consideration of stakeholder input, without consultation with local and national climbing organizations, and in breach of ongoing discussions between MAC, AF, and national park staff about a future climbing management plan for the park.

Access Fund policy director Erik Murdock says, “We are optimistic that the Harpers Ferry leadership will listen to the climbing community, open up climbing access, thoughtfully assess climbing conditions before closing any more climbing resources, and continue to work with Mid Atlantic Climbers to steward the exceptional climbing opportunities at Harpers Ferry. We need to ensure that the public is included in the management of public lands and this has been a disheartening situation that we hope to resolve as soon as possible.”

MAC has worked in partnership with Harpers Ferry since 2014, including planning 3 volunteer events, educating the climbing community about seasonal closures for raptor nesting, and acting as a resource for the park in regard to climbing practices and management. The climbing community has an excellent history of compliance with park regulations and MAC has effectively helped the park with several climbing-related issues.

“The blanket closure of long-standing recreational areas like Harpers Ferry without sufficient evidence or community engagement sets a dangerous precedent not only for climbers, but for hikers, paddlers, mountain bikers, and all outdoor enthusiasts in the region, and we are united in opposing the blanket ban on access to Harpers Ferry’s crags,” adds Ryan Delaney, Co-founder of Outdoor Alliance DMV.

Elliott Becker, DC Section Policy Chair of American Alpine Club, says, “The closure of various climbing areas is a great loss to the climbing community, especially those in the mid-Atlantic. We hope the Park Service will restore climbing access to Harpers Ferry and then, implement a scientifically informed, adaptive management plan which considers public input during the process of resource assessment.”

Throughout the past three months, local outdoor recreation organizations, climbing-related businesses, and volunteers have joined the campaign by collecting comments at events, sharing stories of climbing at Harpers Ferry on social media, and speaking with Park staff.

Adam Hartman, Vice-President South Central Pennsylvania Climbers, says, “The mid-Atlantic region is stewarded by multiple non-profit climbing organizations and South Central Pennsylvania Climbers is proud to partner and support Mid Atlantic Climbers in protecting the very valuable and important cliffs and boulders surrounding Harpers Ferry.”

“Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiast (MORE) supports Mid Atlantic Climbers’ campaign because we love and respect nature, outdoor recreation and share our vision for access to climbing at Harpers Ferry public lands,” adds Ernest (Ernie) Rodriguez, President of Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiast.

MAC, AF, and others in the mid-Atlantic outdoor recreation community encourage Harpers Ferry to listen to the hundreds of area climbers, immediately remove the current climbing restrictions, and allow for a public process on future climbing management for the Park.

Additional materials:

Timeline of Mid Atlantic Climbers and Access Fund engagement with Harpers Ferry National Historical Park