I don’t often notice a newspaper taking a clear position on an environmental issue. Below is the Salt Lake Tribune’s position statement on the proposed climbing & canyoneering regulations in Arches National Park:
August 3, 2010
Opinion Editor, Salt Lake Tribune
There is a reason the name of Delicate Arch contains the word “delicate.” Although the iconic span often featured in photographs and paintings, as well as on Utah license plates, has withstood centuries of wind and rain, human contact now threatens to ruin its natural beauty.
That’s why we support park managers’ plan to revise and possibly strengthen limits on rock climbing and canyoneering in Arches National Park. The changes would expand rules already in place that prohibit all rock climbing on any arch or natural bridge named on U.S. Geological Survey 7.5 topographical maps. Also prohibited is the practice of slacklining, walking on a flat nylon webbing or rope between rock formations, trees or other natural features in the park.
The existing rules did not stop Dean Potter, a professional climber who scaled Delicate Arch in 2006. Potter said that making the ascent had become an obsession. We saw it more as an ego trip and a chance to advance his climbing career. There are always a few irresponsible climbers or canyoneering aficionados who are stubbornly determined to go where no human has gone before, and who believe that rules meant to protect the landscape don’t apply to them.
Canyoneering is especially hard on fragile landscapes because it involves cross-country hiking and climbing and has become so popular that the sheer number of people and their equipment are threatening scenic park land.
The Arches National Park staff has put together a list of possible new rules and policies that seem reasonable for dealing with the potential problems so many recreationists can create. The agency rightly will collect public comments on the proposed new rules and seek advice from the climbing community before deciding which to adopt.
The plan includes: building a database of routes and use patterns that catalogs the effects of visitors’ activities and the status of the natural resources in the park; educating climbers; initiating on-going planning to deal with changes; and increased monitoring. Specifics, based on the data collected, might include adopting a permitting system and limits on group size, developing canyoneering routes and climbing approaches and prohibiting access elsewhere, and specifying the type of equipment allowed.
Potter obviously did not consider the harm he might cause by disregarding park regulations. Tighter rules and better enforcement would reduce the number of such climbers who put their own personal gratification first.
And that could ensure that Delicate Arch and others like it remain standing in their natural state centuries from now.