The local climbing community is starting to mobilize around the issue of access to climbing locations in Boulder open space.
Five City Council seats up in the November election, plus the continued closure of Boulder's open space off-trail areas following the September floods, are generating concern. Many popular climbing routes can only be reached by hiking off the designated trails.
The Boulder Rock Club recently sent an email inviting climbers to a session that its hosting this week with two City Council candidates “who understand the concerns of climbers.”
The email noted that the “future of your access to climbing on City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks is at stake.”
Mike Alkaitis, general manager for the Colorado Mountain School and Boulder Rock Club, said he's concerned that the continued closure of off-trail areas is setting a precedent. He described the potential for a permanent ban as “scary.”
“We would love to have recreational advocates on City Council,” he said. “The reason that we live around Boulder and work around Boulder is we cherish that access.”
But Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum, who's one of two incumbents running for re-election, called the possibility that climbers would lose access to their favorite spots an “unfounded rumor” and said no one on council has advocated making the closures permanent.
‘There's no imminent change,” he said. “There's no basis for that whatsoever. The council has been quite clear that climbing access will be provided.”
The issue of off-trail access is included in the work plan of Boulder's Open Space and Mountain Parks department. The City Council in 2011 asked the department to evaluate the issue as part of an overall look at the department's resources and service delivery.
The next step, which hasn't been taken yet, is for the department to make a recommendation on off-trail access to the Open Space Board of Trustees, which in turn would make a recommendation to the City Council.
Appelbaum said that, as the number of people using open space continues to increase, it makes sense to evaluate if small changes are needed to ensure that eco-systems are protected. It's possible that access trails would need to be consolidated or trails re-routed or rebuilt, he said.
“You have to take a look at it and see what makes sense,” he said. “You have to make all the pieces work. We have a pretty good balance right now.”
Boulder resident and climber Buzz Burrell said climbers are worried because the open space department has increasingly moved toward limiting access.
The continued closure of off-trail areas, along with a nighttime closure implemented after the floods, is concerning, he said. He and other climbers said they would like to see the city follow Rocky Mountain National Park, which reopened its trails shortly after the flooding with a warning that conditions have changed and to proceed at your own risk.
“Open space staff are working very hard, which is appreciated,” Burrell said. “The problem is they are doing things that don't need to be done, do not help the environment and are opposed by the citizens they are supposed to be protecting.”