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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Access Fund Conference - West Virginia New River Gorge

To kick off October, Brian and I (Renee) flew out to West Virginia for the year’s second Access Fund conference. Excited to check out the New River Gorge, we were not disappointed.

I arrived late Thursday night and drove down from Charleston to Fayetteville Friday morning. There I set out to climb with Amy, Joe, and Patrick from the Access Fund, as well as Jonah from Seattle and Tom from San Diego. The new guidebook for the Gorge is incredible, and we easily followed the well-marked trail to some ladders down to an area called Endless Wall for good reason. Tons of great climbs, trad and sport, all levels. I also enjoyed the way Amy would exclaim, “We’re winning!” each time we checked the trail against the map and were on track.

Friday night we all gathered at a nearby campsite and had amazing pizza from a local restaurant courtesy of the NRAC (New River) group. We introduced ourselves and talked about our local climbing areas. It was obvious how proud of the area the NRAC climbers were, and how excited they were to share their rock with us.

Saturday morning we began the conference in the Visitor’s Center across the street from the campsite. They were generous to share their theater room with us, and we stayed much warmer than at the last conference! Saturday began with the ever-enthusiastic Thomson Ling talking about how to get people involved. I then talked about 501(c)(3) tax status and processes, followed by Patrick and Joe discussing more details of property rights and conservation strategies. Patrick had great info about how to get information about land and property boundaries, and both he and Joe showed what incredible sources of knowledge they are for any questions in this area.

After lunch, Anthony talked about the acquisition process, and Jonah showed an example of public/private partnerships by focusing on his work at Index near Seattle. Following this, we all split off in the mid-afternoon to experience a bit more local climbing. I followed local climber Jay to a new area that isn’t even in the guidebooks yet. My little rental Prius barely survived the rugged gravel road (and my passengers had to get out because it was bottoming out too much!). The climbing area was right off this, though, and I enjoyed how so much great climbing had easy access. (In California, I feel I’m often doing an hour’s rugged hike before I get to climb!)

Saturday night we checked out Gene’s outdoor store and then walked down the block to eat. The restaurant donated 10% of our bill and the waiters donated 25% (!) of their tips to the Access Fund that night. How generous!

Sunday we met up again and discussed fundraising, easements, and had a panel discussion on risk management and private land ownership issues. After lunch, Pete presented his doctoral study on the impacts of climbing on overhanging cliffs (though unfortunately we have to wait for his results). The photos and detail were fascinating. At this point, I had to head out to catch my flight home, but I believe Amy talked about land management and stewardship, and Patrick talked about the conservation toolbox he’s been working on.

In sum, it was another excellent weekend filled with some of the most motivated climbers around from all sides of the country. I learn so much and make great new friends and contacts that will be working through the same issues as CRAGS and will offer support whenever we need it. What a great network of people!

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