This season’s Access Fund Indian Creek Stewards are Aida Goma Petit (left), who is returning for her second season, and Johanna Cogen, who is returning for her third season. [Access Fund]

Cooler fall temperatures bring lots of recreators to Moab: Hikers, bikers and rock climbers revel in the crisp air and warm sunshine. Outdoor stewardship organizations, including the Grand County Active Transportation and Trails Division and the climbing advocacy nonprofit the Access Fund, are strategizing to meet the masses with messages of responsible recreation. The Access Fund hosts regular weekend “climber coffee” events at Indian Creek, a world-famous climbing area south of Moab; GCATT’s Trail Ambassador program is expanding its outreach to the climbing community this fall with its first ever “Moab Climber Coffee” scheduled this weekend at the Lion’s Park boulders.

First Moab Climber Coffee

Last fall, GCATT officially kicked off its Trail Ambassador program, through which county staff members offer information and education to recreators at popular trailheads. The program started small, focusing mostly on hiking areas like the Mill Creek trail from the Powerdam trailhead. Trail ambassadors now also frequent popular biking trails. The Moab Climber Coffee will be the first event aimed at rock climbers.

Trail Ambassador Lauren Hebert, who worked with the Access Fund as a steward in Indian Creek last year, is helping to develop a climber outreach program; she’s been roving local crags and experimenting with the best way to contact climbers in the Moab area. Much of the messaging echoes ethics that apply to all outdoor recreationists: protect the fragile biological soil crust, pack out your trash, dispose of human waste properly, and respect archaeological sites. Last year, several high-profile vandalism incidents damaged archaeological sites in the area—one of those involved a climber bolting a route over petroglyphs. The climber didn’t realize what they were.

“There’s a need for education on cultural resources,” said Maddie Logowitz, director of GCATT.

Rockclimbing-specific messaging will emphasize the fragility of the local sandstone when it’s wet—something Logowitz noted is “both a conservation issue and a safety issue.” Hebert also noted that there are seasonal crag closures for wildlife—raptors and bighorn sheep—that climbers need to know about. 

The location of Lion’s Park makes it a convenient stopping point for climbers headed to a variety of destinations, whether it’s Wall Street on Potash Road, a crag or route on the River Road, or an objective in Arches National Park. The event is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 29. Attendees can pick up a free cup of coffee, chat with the ambassador, test their knowledge in a trivia game, and play on artificial boulders, which are equipped with climbing holds. There will also be small giveaways—some local shops have donated some gear, and there’s GCATT swag as well.

Hebert and Logowitz hope the coffee meetup will also foster interactions between local and visiting climbers, to help build a positive and responsible climbing culture. 

The Trail Ambassador program aims to keep expanding to reach all user groups, including motorized users. Last year, GCATT applied for a grant to buy a Jeep that ambassadors could use to patrol motorized routes in the area while promoting responsible recreation. The division wasn’t awarded the grant that time around, but leaders are still working on developing the motorized branch of the ambassador program.

Indian Creek Steward program expands

The Access Fund launched its Indian Creek stewardship initiative last fall, and based on the program’s success so far, the organization has decided to enhance the weekend “climber coffee” events with visits from subject experts and evening activities at the campground. 

“This was always the goal of the program,” said Ty Tyler, stewardship director for the Access Fund. “We always wanted to grow into having more information. But first we had to make sure that people are even interested.”

During the first season, stewards staffed tables at popular stopping points in Indian Creek, including the Supercrack parking area and the Beef Basin turnoff, and shared responsible recreation messaging. A lot of their talking points are similar to those of the GCATT ambassadors; they also urge visitors to respect crag closures, avoid climbing on wet rock, and camp only in existing camping spots.

The response from climbers and other visitors was positive, so the Access Fund moved ahead with inviting experts from the Bureau of Land Management and other partners to offer in-depth information on things like invasive plants, cultural sites, and wildlife. Rather than a formal talk, the experts are encouraged to design their own method of outreach and share it informally as visitors come and go. A wildlife biologist brought different animal pelts to display, for example, as well as spotting scopes to look for the nesting raptors that prompt seasonal closures of some of the crags. A plant specialist created an “invasive plant bingo” game and gave out small prizes.

There will also be a dark sky presentation at the Creek Pasture campground this weekend, and a movie night in the same location in November. They’ll maintain the low-key vibe.

“We’ll project it on somebody’s van,” Tyler said of the outdoor movie night.

Stewards track how many people they talk with, and they’ve made a lot of contact. At the end of the 10-week Spring 2022 season, stewards had logged 1,777 visitor interactions and given away about 1,300 cups of coffee (the format is bring-your-own mug or cup). They spoke with visitors from 44 different states and 17 countries.

It’s difficult to measure what kind of impact the program is making on people’s behavior, but Tyler said that at least anecdotally, stewards have noticed fewer people camping in illegal areas or ignoring crag closures since the program began.

In addition to the outreach program, the Access Fund is sponsoring clean-ups and trail work throughout the season. This weekend there’s a “Spooky Creek Cleanup” where volunteers are invited to help remove invasive plants—Halloween costumes are optional. The Acecss Fund is also partnering with the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps, whose mission is to engage Indigenous youth in conservation service programs, on trail projects. Crews from the Hopi and Zuni tribes have helped with trail maintenance and construction, creating re-routes and building stone steps and retaining walls.

Crews will be working at the Fin Wall through mid-November, and Tyler said they welcome volunteers. They work 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, and can be easily located by the presence of the Access Fund-branded van.

“There’s tools, there’s gloves, there’s good leadership,” Tyler said. “They don’t need to know what they’re doing—we’ll put them to work.”

Through outreach and volunteer opportunities, stewards hope to inspire recreators to treat the landscape with care.

“The whole purpose of all of this stuff is to really connect everybody to the place in a different way than just rock climbing,” Tyler said.