Thursday, December 18, 2008


The following is my comment submitted to the NPS in regards to the SNP ROMP:

In wilderness is the salvation of the world. – Thoreau

Before writing this I spent about 10 hours reading the updated Shenandoah National Park’s Rock Outcrop Management Plan (ROMP) including its Appendix D the September 2008 DRAFT Shenandoah National Park Climbing Management Guidelines.

The document was very well written and edited. While I am sure there are spelling or grammatical errors I did not come across any. I was greatly impressed by the level of public outreach and fact gathering that was engaged in during the creation of the document. Reading the document provided me with an introduction to the many different policies and laws that need to be considered and or applied by the Park Service’s in its professional management of rock outcrops under their care. The ROMP provides a tremendous amount of fact based analysis in support of alternative and recommended courses of action. The ROMP will also provide a great future reference and compilation of historical facts regarding Shenandoah National Park’s rock outcrops.

The longer I digested the facts presented in the ROMP the more I found myself agreeing with the National Park Service’s (NPS’s) preferred alternative.

My personal goals for reading the ROMP included:
Reading and understanding what it had to say about Old Rag Mountain.
Helping with the effective implementation of NPS’s decisions about how to manage the rock outcrops on Old Rag Mountain.

I have pretty much done at least one circuit hike/patrol of Old Rag Mountain every weekend during the last year. Reflecting back on the thousands of Old Rag visitors I have observed or the hundreds that I have interacted with or assisted the following are my anecdotal observations in relation to the ROMP:

The vast majority of the human time on Old Rag is contained within a few feet of the existing Old Rag Saddle and Ridge trails. The general hiking public’s off-trail wanderings mostly occur around either a rock outcrop with a vista or around rock formations near the trail that provide an athletic puzzle/challenge. These instances of off-trail use are limited by the availability of good vistas or rock problems easily accessible and within the skill levels of the general hiker. Old Rag has huge tracts of both rock outcrop and woodland environment that remain untouched by human impacts of any kind for months if not years at a time. This is especially true of the Weakley Hollow side of the mountain once you get away from the ridgeline cliffs.

Most of the impacts caused to rock outcrop could be substantially diminished with on-going education and outreach efforts. A very large percentage of negative behavior is caused by visitor’s not understanding what is appropriate. Another large percentage of negative behavior is caused by visitors who are physically stressed or in crises. Some negative behavior is just a mistake and lastly there is a minor amount of negative behavior caused by individuals who just do not care.

Scout Troops and most climbers provide two examples of communities of well meaning visitors who through inexperience or lack of knowledge inadvertently impact the rock outcrop areas.

On Old Rag the off-trail use is miniscule compared to the overall human usage that occurs on or near the trails, the highest percentage of off-trail use is for the purpose of reaching rock climbing routes. Most of this activity is found either on the side of the mountain facing Etlan, or on the cliffs facing Weakley Hollow but close to the Ridge Trail (Eastern Summit and PATC/Skyline Wall), or among the Sunset Walls.

Rock Climbers tend to be extremely passionate about their sport. They general have a keen understanding that “good” existing or potential new climbs are very limited. Most of the rock climbing community will cooperatively participate in the protection of their climbing resources as long as they feel they will still have access to them. Because of the remote nature of Old Rags rock climbs non-voluntary enforcement of rock climbers’ behavior would be extremely difficult. Fortunately this community has a long and deeply ingrained tradition of protecting the climbing resource they are so passionate about. I know of one climbing community which self-imposed a tradition of declaring an area of available climbs as being forever undocumented just because they realized that by documenting you destroyed the first ascent experience. They wanted to preserve a resource of classic routes that were not ridiculously hard for future generations of climbers to experience of putting up a first ascent. The whole development of the “clean climbing ethic” during the late sixties and early seventies is another example supporting the fact that most the members of this community have a profound sense of preservation. With a little bit of outreach this community should prove to be tremendously cooperative with on-going preservation efforts.

I look forward to participating in NPS’s on-going effort at preserving and managing the use of Old Rag’s rock outcrops. I have a strong belief that humans were meant to explore and experience challenging adventures and strongly lean towards responsible use and stewardship of the wilderness resource as opposed to access restrictions.

I am a member of the Trail Patrol section of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) and a member of Old Rag Mountain Stewards. I have a great fondness for Old Rag Mountain because it is within a couple hours drive of my home and offers an almost alpine like climbing and hiking experience.

I grew up during the 60’s in the rolling upland hills between the small towns of Hamilton and Cazenovia New York. In high school I was a founding member of what was called the Environmental Study Team and when I was 16 I fell in love with rock climbing while attending a Hurricane Island Outward Bound course. For the next 16 years of my life I was an avid moderate grade east coast rock climber and mountaineer. In my early thirties I stopped my climbing and hiking activities to focus on my family and work commitments. A couple of years ago when my two daughters were mostly independent and my wife and I decided to separate I returned to my personal interests of hiking and climbing. During the last year I have gotten a great deal of satisfaction from hiking/patrolling Old Rag Mountain on most weekends. I have always greatly enjoyed sharing my outdoor experiences and adventures with others. For me, patrols on Old Rag Mountain provide impromptu opportunities to help and or share the wonders and adventure of the Old Rag experience.

No comments:

Post a Comment