Access Proposal letters – Parks Victoria GNP Climbing Management Plan Climbing Code of Conduct/Policy Update

As many in the climbing community may be aware, climbing/bouldering in the Grampians National Park has more recently come under the spotlight for a variety of reasons. Recent impacts to cultural heritage in the park may be driving the current push for climbing management, but there are other issues also, that have been building for a long time. Increased route development – both climbing and bouldering, increased use of fixed protection, lack of boundaries, environmental impacts and the increase of people coming into the sport are all concerns to land managers. All the usual issues that impact climbing areas and that the community eventually need to deal with. But now access to many of the areas we climb at is under threat. The Victorian Climbing Club and CliffCare are now engaging in discussions with Parks Victoria, Traditional Owners and other stakeholders. We are concerned that the activity that we love is impacting cultural heritage. We are committed to engaging with land managers to ensure that these values are protected whilst still ensuring that the legitimate activity of climbing in the park can continue sustainably. We look forward to positive engagement with Parks Victoria and ask the climbing community to support us in our endeavours to look after your interests.

On 4th October, we submitted the following letters to Parks Victoria. These can be viewed on the CliffCare website.

VCC/CliffCare Proposal – Climbing Policy Update

https://cliffcare.org.au/current-access-campaigns/parks-victoria-climbing-code-of-conduct-update-proposal/

VCC/CliffCare Proposal – GNP Climbing Management Plan

https://cliffcare.org.au/current-access-campaigns/grampians-climbing-management-plan-proposal/

Ongoing updates on the process will be communicated regularly to the climbing community. Over the next few weeks, more information will be made available.

Thank you

Tracey Skinner                                                            Paula Toal
VCC Access & Environment Officer                       VCC President

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Access & Environment Report August 2018

Simple Equations

No-one can deny that the amount of people now heading into climbing and going outdoors has grown since the early heydays of climbing. And by that simple statement, I am sure that the majority of you can relate to the fact that as anything grows, its wants, needs, advancements and issues, grow along with it. Many codes of conduct, any operational guidelines or policies soon become outdated as the activity outgrows the very guidelines put in place to protect it or the space in which it exists.
In more recent months, some conversations around fixed protection and development in the Grampians has come to the fore. Some people are asking why? What’s the problem? Rather than outlining too much here, I will leave it up to the reader to read back over previous Access reports. It is all there.

Fixed protection is one element of the bigger picture. It is not the only one. We will need to deal with all.

The biggest issue though that has an overall impact on all of the issues we need to deal with, whether it be environmental, cultural heritage or sharing the space with others, is growth. The amount of people now climbing, bouldering and accessing the outdoor option is growing and will continue to. Which means that the impact is much greater. How climbing was managed, or not managed previously, is no longer looking after the space and in the longer run, looking after the activity.

A complex conversation. There are land manager and traditional owner perspectives. There are climbing community ethics. There is the evolution of climbing and bouldering. And there are rules and regulations. The reality is all do change over time. Which means that we all need to reassess what works. It is something we do everyday in many aspects of our life and the world we live in. Especially if it’s due to growth. It’s why we re- assess our energy options, why we re-assess the way we package our food, our lives… The sheer volume has an impact.

Climbing/Bouldering is no different. That moment in time and the joy of being on rock both spiritually and physically, simply isn’t the only thing anymore that we have to think about. The sheer volume is having an impact and those impacts are relayed to me directly by those who are tasked with looking after the space, as well as those who also share it.
Victoria has a range of climbing areas across the state with the most heavily visited being the Grampians National Park and Arapiles Tooan State Park.

So why the current focus on the Grampians? Because at this moment in time the impacts via climbing and bouldering are growing and being relayed to me, as now no longer acceptable in the current state of play. So how do we manage this? There are so many questions and there will be many conversations moving into the future. So as a starter, some food for thought, some direction for conversations for the climbing community. On a rope. On a boulder. Or over a beer.

A few points of interest:

The bulk of cultural heritage ie indigenous art sites, sacred locations occur in the Grampians. The Victoria Range in particular has the highest percentage of all known and registered sites in the park. A large amount of these sites are also rock sites.

The majority of Indigenous cultural heritage sites that are known and registered are not known to the general public. It is against the law for Parks Victoria or anyone else with that information, to notify the public of their exact locations.

It is a National Park. It’s main aim is to conserve its natural and cultural values. Any recreational activities need to sit alongside these values but with minimal damage/loss to them. Impacts will differ from location to location

Climbing is a recognised activity in the park and one which is promoted. There are some areas within the park that are particularly sensitive for either cultural or environmental reasons and climbing amongst other activities, is not allowed.

The Grampians National Park is moving towards a Joint Management Plan whereby it will be managed by both Parks Victoria and Traditional Owners.

Land Manager and Traditional Owner Concerns – Grampians National Park

Direct impacts to cultural heritage sites

Route development in known areas of cultural heritage significance and therefore possible impacts to undiscovered sites

Environmental impact to surrounding cliff landscapes due to increased traffic. Excessive social trails especially in bouldering areas

Human waste issues at climbing/bouldering sites/bush camps

Increased use of fixed protection

Chalk impacts

Wire brushing

Vegetation removal to access climbing or bouldering sites or the actual routes

Current management plan boundaries not being followed

Questions & Actions – to ask yourself, your climbing friends, to ponder, to respond.

Climbing and Bouldering Route developers:
Check the park management plans. Understand the environmental and cultural heritage values of the park and the particular areas you are developing. Does the plan prohibit climbing in that area? Is there a high level of sensitive cultural heritage in the area. Rare flora or fauna in a threatened habitat?
Caves and overhangs often have a higher likelihood of cultural heritage. Bouldering development can impact a larger area either directly or indirectly with traffic and multiple social trails, within a location that contains a high percentage of sensitive sites.
Don’t know? Ask.

When using fixed protection:
Alongside the perspectives of land managers and park management plans, this brings up the topic of climbing ethics within the climbing community ie traditional and sport climbing. A complex and often divisive one. And a changing conversation as our sport has evolved. That fixed protection is an element of climbing is not denied, but how and when, is the conversation we will need to have. At this point in time, climbing in the Grampians (and Victoria) has operated on the understanding that if it goes at trad it should remain so. Fixed protection besides the physical impact, can increase the traffic to an area so this should be taken into account. The following points are some suggested already by members of the climbing community that might go some way towards helping to manage this one aspect in the future. Only a guide at this point but something to develop further.

Is the route you wish to bolt in a predominantly sport climbing area?

Is the route in a sensitive area be it cultural heritage or a fragile environmental landscape?

Is the route you wish to bolt naturally protectable?

Is the route visible from major tourist/public tracks or areas?

Do you have sufficient knowledge of and experience in placing fixed gear? Same as in the case of removing it.

If you are considering retro-bolting the route, do you have permission from the person (s) who made the FA?

As noted , climbing is a recognized activity in the park. We are working towards a joint understanding between all parties for a sustainable climbing future. There will be many conversations like this. Throw this info around in your head. Ask the questions in your groups. Your help via feedback, support for closures that may be in place and a little extra care when developing or out climbing or bouldering, can and will make a difference. Any thoughts on this you want to send me? I am very keen to hear. Drop me a line. Any other way you think you can help, maybe a particular issue you feel passionate about – there are always jobs. Drop me a line.

Many thanks to all the people from the many different avenues of our climbing community who have taken the time to provide their thoughts, be it publicly or privately. It all goes into the pot.

Tracey Skinner
VCC Access & Environment Officer

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Access & Environment Report June 2018

I recently took advantage of a moment in time and a conversation that was happening on Chockstone to add some comments. here This is from my perspective as an Access officer that deals directly with Land managers, Traditional Owners and a variety of other stakeholders. This is also alongside my interactions from members of the climbing community as well. Which is who I work for. I do this regularly on discussions I come across be it social media, in person, forums etc. A separate thread was then started by a forum member to begin a conversation around ‘the bigger picture’ element of the original topic, following my comments. here This forum conversation was tackling one of the issues that I have been noting for a while now in Access reports and articles – fixed protection and development in the Grampians National Park. Land manager and Traditional Owner concerns have been escalating and this year would need to see the climbing community put some difficult conversations on the table. About how we develop new areas and how we use fixed protection in a National Park that besides its environmental values, has a high percentage of cultural heritage. And where many of these cultural heritage sites exist around rock. And in a nutshell, to be part of the solution and have a place at the table. I further commented on this thread and asked if the original poster was happy for me to direct the wider community to it. Something, which he himself had noted would need to happen with this kind of conversation. More voices the better was the general feedback from many on the thread. And so I did via the CliffCare website and social media. This report is not so much about the topic itself – that will be the next Access report for July – but rather, as I noted above, some clarification about the conversation taking place on Chockstone. I have included the post from the CliffCare website below and following that, a little clarification on the Chockstone discussion-

CliffCare website post May 19 https://cliffcare.org.au/2018/05/19/fixed-protection-development-guidelines-grampians/

So, whilst most of the points I note below have actually been noted in my original post and in further comments on Chockstone thread itself, I will further clarify this:

The conversation was started by an individual, and as an Access officer for the climbing community, I took advantage of the situation to encourage it to continue. To talk about a difficult topic and throw some ideas around and so, in the longer term, also provide myself with feedback and some ideas and help, for draft framework.

This conversation, and I applaud all who have commented, is just that, a conversation to help develop some kind of draft guidelines. It doesn’t mean that everything is or will be endorsed by the VCC and CliffCare. Noting on a post that the VCC and CliffCare is involved in this means that this topic is something that I am dealing with in my work in Access and my job is to help find a solution and engage the community in diaglogue. Everything will be taken on board. From Chockstone and any other avenues. As was always the intention. The opportunity to comment other than on Chockstone was offered on the CliffCare post and also on the forum post The conversation wasn’t going to stay on Chockstone.

The guidelines that will be developed are guidelines from the climbing community’s perspective. They obviously need to take on board some of the issues we are dealing with but they are not Parks Victoria guidelines or policies. They will eventually be VCC guidelines, that the climbing community has helped put together and can reference. Just like the Climbers Code of Conduct that was developed a number of years ago. By climbers (and as a point of interest, much of it occurred via Chockstone) I am hopeful that once we have some of our own guidelines that address some of the issues that will impact our climbing, that further on, we can sit at the table and include ourselves in feedback on park guidelines on climbing.
As an added to this, the VCC Bolting Policy is currently being updated. This is an overall policy on bolting, not just about the Grampians. It is also not a Parks Victoria bolting policy.

There appears to be some resistance from some quarters about the conversation being on Chockstone in the first place. I will be the first to agree that sometimes Chockstone can be a frustrating place, either from the fact that you might have to wade through pages of conversation (the hint is in that word) or the fact that some vocal forum members may shout you down, bully a bit or direct it off topic. Not always a joyous experience. But, I use it the same way as I use every other info point from private fb groups to public ones, public pages, route databases etc etc. It is not a perfect system. Chockstone does at least provide instant real time conversation that accommodates every user that wants to join. And this kind of instant feedback is so helpful in my job. And when I see a topic that I can add knowledge to from my job perspective, I will comment. This was a conversation that was started by a member of the climbing community. Even outlandish – in his words. And good on him. There was some good robust discussion from all, that in my opinion didn’t sink to personal slanging. There were differences of opinion sure. If it had been started on theCrag, would it be more relevant? Or on a private climbing page on Facebook? Other than those talking on Chockstone, and from a couple of private emails with some great points to offer I may add, it has been quiet. Having said that, the thread has been viewed over 15,500 times. Even with return visits that’s a lot of community reach.

It is disappointing as it seems that the fact that a conversation, that all were invited to was started on a forum that wasn’t to everyone’s taste, has taken over the actual important discussions itself. Perhaps it’s more about the conversation topic rather than the mode.

The conversation will be continuing. Via articles, surveys, social media, route databases and Chockstone. It just takes a little while. And all will be taken on board. Please be involved.

More will be in the next report for July. And again, if you don’t feel comfortable about putting comments out into the public domain, send me an email cliffcare@vicclimb.org.au

Fixed Protection & Development Guidelines Grampians

UPDATE: 5/9/17
Conversations via the Chockstone forum have slowed down but discussions are still ongoing. Some are public, some are private so if you have something you would like to provide feedback on, please feel free to comment either way. What are your thoughts on climbing areas in the Grampians? On development of newer areas, trad, sport and bouldering? Do you see any issues? Do you have ideas on solutions. All goes into the pot. A more recent Access report gives a little more on the topic. Give it a read. Link is here: https://cliffcare.org.au/2018/08/01/access-environment-report-august-2018/
A survey is also in the pipeline which will provide some questions for people which will enable us to get a better idea of numbers, thoughts and ideas to work with moving forward. Fixed protection and development is just one element of the sustainable climbing conversation we need to be having but it is one that is perhaps a little more pressing.

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MAY 19 2018. As noted in a number of Access reports last year, the time was fast approaching that the climbing community would need to start asking themselves the harder questions and the new year would see some of these conversations put in place. Following some issues in the Black Range (Greater Grampians area), where cultural heritage was directly impacted by new development and fixed protection, ensuing discussions with Parks Victoria, Aboriginal Victoria and  Traditional Owners involved not only these sites and the seriousness of it, but threw the conversation net much wider. PV’s concerns(which have been ongoing) about the amount of new development in the park, especially that involving fixed protection was much more than a just a passing comment. Solutions would need to be found. Climbing community feedback and involvement would be encouraged.

Fixed Protection and Development guidelines for the Grampians are now being developed by the climbing community and climbers are invited to provide feedback to come up with a draft framework. We can then finesse this further and my discussions with land managers will also shape the final set of guidelines. There are other elements to this and progressions will be updated as this occurs.

Getting the information out there and getting it back in, is in itself, no easy task, being the fragmented lot we are.We are currently using the Chockstone forum to discuss and provide information to develop a draft. I encourage you all to provide some feedback. Please be respectful and keep any personal slanging to yourself so that we can keep the discussion on track. As we all know, this is an emotive subject for many. There are a number of climbers that are trying to collate the information as it develops and finesse the draft further. At least scan through a good section of the conversation that is developing. This conversation will eventually move on from Chockstone when it becomes too unwieldy and I shall keep you informed on this. This draft will be developed and used in future discussions about climbing and it’s sustainable future in the Grampians. As the GNP is where the bulk of issues are coming from currently, and this is a complex process, working on the Grampians is a good place to start. This will then make it much easier to put together an overall one in the future that may have specifics for certain parks.

I will be setting up another section on the CliffCare website to provide ongoing reference material and links. So keep checking back. This one conversation is part of a bigger one.
https://cliffcare.org.au/grampians/fixed-protection-development-grampians-guidelines/

Chockstone link – Fixed gear guidelines in the Grampians http://www.chockstone.org/Forum/Forum.asp?Action=DisplayTopic&ForumID=1&MessageID=132730&Replies=118#NewPost

If you feel that commenting on a public forum is not your thing, please feel free to drop me a line cliffcare@vicclimb.org.au