Climbing Trust wins award for restoring access to crags

The Aotearoa Climbing Access Trust (ACAT) has won an Outdoor Access Champion Award for advocating public access to climbing areas.
ACAT, led by its general manager, Edwin Sheppard, is working to improve access to rock climbing and bouldering areas.
Sheppard says that some of NZ’s most historic and best-quality crags have closed to public access.

“Public access to these incredible, beautiful outdoor spaces and to outdoor recreation opportunities is part of our New Zealand heritage and that’s something people often take for granted,” says Sheppard. However, different pressures have led to many closures over the last 10 years.
“This was a loss felt quite keenly by many members of the climbing community I think we recognised that we haven’t been particularly well organised as a community and that we could probably do better. In 2020, we sat down with several interested parties and discussed whether we could create something that would potentially turn the tide on the ongoing losses of public access.”

There are around 400 different climbing areas in New Zealand. They are on a mix of public, private, and iwi land. Each crag has its own access issues. So, Sheppard and his team talk to private landowners like farmers or iwi, councils and the Department of Conservation (DOC), seeking to resolve any concerns they have about climbing. Practical issues can include needing stiles over fences, appropriate signs, maintaining fixed safety anchors for climbing and ensuring that the right ground rules are in place. The goal is to make sure that climbers are well-educated about how to access the land and climb without causing bother.
Landholders’ big concern is potential liability if something goes wrong.
Sheppard notes that this is less of an issue than people often think, but it’s poorly understood.

“I’m able to help because I’ve got a background as a lawyer, and I can reassure people with the right information.”

“Many private owners will just tend to say no because any hint of liability risk will put them off. The goodwill might be there, but as soon as there’s a hassle, concern, or risk, the goodwill isn’t enough; there needs to be something else. That’s a growing issue that climbers and other recreationalists face”.
ACAT has managed to save several crags in the North Island from the brink of closure: Maungarei Springs, Ti Point, Waipari Crag (Froggatt Edge), and Wharepapa Rock (Castle Rock). They worked with Raglan Rock and the landowner to open a new crag at Sky Castle and installed a carpark, signs, and toilet. During the COVID19 lockdown, ACAT successfully lobbied the government to make outdoor climbing a permitted activity. They worked with the Waipari landowners to install a new composting toilet and ran several planting and weeding working bees, as well as the first-ever Waipari Climbing Festival. They are continuing to work on complex access situations behind the scenes in the hopes of re-opening the Auckland Grammar School Quarry and Pakeho crags.

In the South Island ACAT is working with DOC to resolve environmental concerns that are causing access issues at Mt Owen, which includes the Fyfe River Gorge, Goldstrike and Granity Pass crags. They supported the creation and fundraising efforts of the Golden Bay Climbers’ Club, which is rebolting Paynes Ford and Pohara. They worked with the NZ Alpine Club and Federated Mountain Clubs to ensure climbers have a voice on upcoming changes to vehicle access along Milford Road in Fiordland. They are building relationships with Ngāti Wheke and other stakeholders regarding Te Ahi-a-Tamatea (Mt Bradley and Rapaki crags).
A highlight for Sheppard is the trust’s work with Ngāti Te Maunga to reopen Whanganui Bay last year.

“It’s an ongoing negotiation, but it’s one of the best climbing areas in New Zealand. It was once the epicentre of climbing in New Zealand, and it was closed for five or six years, which was felt very keenly, particularly the Wellington climbing community. But yeah, the work that we’ve done to try and build those relationships has been quite crucial,” says Sheppard.
And what’s next? At the moment, ACAT is in the middle of a fundraising drive. It needs more regular donors to achieve financial sustainability. And after that, there are more crags to restore to public access.
Outdoor Access Champion award presentation details. Each year, Herenga ā Nuku, the Outdoor Access Commission, presents Outdoor Access Champion awards to people who have made significant and
lasting contributions to public access to the outdoors in New Zealand. Herenga ā Nuku is the Crown agency responsible for providing leadership on outdoor access issues and opportunities. It administers a national strategy on outdoor access, maps outdoor access, provides information to the public, helps resolve access issues and negotiates new access.
– Date: Thursday, 4 April 2024
– Time: 3:30pm
– Venue: Hobson Room – Parnell Community Centre (Jubilee Building), 545 Parnell Road, Parnell, Auckland

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