Last week, Mid Atlantic Climbers and our partners at the Access Fund, American Alpine Club, and Outdoor Alliance DMV sent a letter to Harpers Ferry National Historical Park urging park management, with the involvement of the public and representative organizations, to explore additional solutions to a permanent parking closure at Maryland Heights that prioritize visitor safety while providing access to a regionally important climbing area.
In February, Harpers Ferry proposed to permanently close the Maryland Heights parking areas, citing safety issues from illegally parked cars along Sandy Hook Road at busy times when legal parking was full. MAC and our partners submitted comments to request that alternatives to the closure be considered for additional public input and data gathering. However, we were disappointed when the park announced its decision to permanently close the Maryland Heights parking areas without further opportunity for public participation or seriously considering alternatives to the permanent closure.
The decision to permanently close these parking lots, while proposing no new solutions for visitation, will only increase barriers to entry for climbers and other visitors to the park. Last year, MAC and our partners worked with the National Park Service and its contracted researchers to help collect survey responses from climbers regarding their interests and concerns with climbing in the Park. According to the technical report detailing the results of this research, “parking availability” was identified by respondents as the top barrier and constraint that negatively impacted climbing experience or opportunities.
We understand the concerns of some local residents whose safe passage along Sandy Hook Road has been impacted by illegally parked cars. However, we believe the permanent closure is premature without an accompanying solution to address the loss of access to Maryland climbing and other recreational activities. MAC and our partner organizations are committed to working with the park to manage rock climbing in a sustainable manner, which includes parking access for climbing resources. We have engaged with the park to develop a Climbing Management Plan, and we urge the park to continue the process and complete the plan.
Link photo credit: Mark “Indy” Kochte