POST FALLS – Enough beer cans, old blankets and miscellaneous garbage to fill six trash bags made their way out of a rugged canyon in Q’emiln Riverside Park via climbing ropes Saturday, courtesy of a group of volunteers who have met annually for the past three years to improve climbing areas in the park.
“It’s a fairly clean area, but there are still some of those people who are going to throw garbage on the ground. That’s why we’re here,” said Ian McKelvey, of North Idaho College’s Outdoor Pursuits program.
About 30 people from the Kootenai Klimbers, the Spokane Mountaineers and the college spent several hours picking up trash, upgrading trails and building a new bulletin board for rock climbers as part of Adopt-a-Crag – a nationwide program started six years ago by the Access Fund, a climbing advocacy group.
A few years ago, heavy use began damaging vegetation around the park’s numerous cliffs, and the city considered shutting out the climbers.
The Kootenai Klimbers formed when Richard LeFrancis and others who enjoyed the crags got together to convince the city to do otherwise. After a year of city meetings, rock climbing has a place in the city’s parks plan and the group agreed to maintain the trails to the rock walls.
“They now realize the economic importance of climbers,” LeFrancis said.
His organization has about 40 members, and about 650 consider themselves Spokane Mountaineers.
“Sport climbing in general has really taken off,” said Mountain Gear’s Joe Lind just before the cleanup.
The sport involves scaling faces where safety ropes are attached to closely spaced bolts drilled into the rock or the top of a cliff.
“Indoor climbing gyms created this glut of climbers that needed to get outside,” he said.
The result was a greater number of people enjoying the sport, but also more makeshift trails to get to the best routes and the inevitable increase in garbage that comes with more people using one place.
“People were just going everywhere,” said Rusty Baillie, who authored a local climbing guidebook.
“The real trouble with this place is that it’s right in the city, and there is a lot of vandalism,” he said after helping a group of people strategically place logs and rocks to divert people from an eroded side trail.
Climbers are more organized now, volunteers said. The Mountaineers conduct a similar cleanup each year at Minnehaha Rocks, and climbers here are eyeing new routes in property that the city has considered acquiring for parks.
Taking care of climbing areas increases the chances that they will be available to climbers in the future, said Robb Shurr of the Access Fund.
Some 1.6 million people climb in the U.S., and Adopt-a-Crag projects were planned in 33 states and British Columbia this year, according to the group’s Web site.
“You’re showing landowners and land managers that climbers really do care about where they climb,” he said.