New Year, New Leadership

Hello, everyone! My name is Ginette and this month begins my first full year term as the new president of the board for SWPACC. I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve in this role, and humbled by the confidence my peers have placed in me. Thanks to our past president Joel Brady and the board for carving this path ahead of us. Welcome also to 2023’s additional board officers: Jennifer Flaggs, serving as SWPACC’s Vice President; DJ Wilmot, Treasurer; and Eliza Porterfield, Secretary.

We have a lot of big goals here at SWPACC and I am looking forward to helping us achieve them. Among them is cultivating a more inclusive space and working to ensure SWPACC’s leadership and committees are more representative of our climbing community. Access to and development of climbing areas remains a priority. We are retooling our strategy this year for regaining climbing access to State Game Lands 51 and 138. Also, having formal permission to climb on structures in the City of Pittsburgh is coming ever closer to reality. Last year’s visit from Access Fund’s Conservation Team breathed new energy into Climb Pittsburgh. The momentum continues to build and we are excited for what’s to come.

These are just a few examples. The themes remain the same for all of our work this year:  deepening our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion so that we all can truly benefit from our climbing resources; promoting responsible development of climbing areas both in the city and beyond; gaining and preserving access; and sharing information on sustaining our climbing areas through conservation and stewardship. 

Stay tuned on how we are making meaningful progress in these spaces. And please – get involved. Join our committees; come to events. And if time is tight, you can also demonstrate your support with an online donation. Please follow us on Instagram and Facebook. SWPACC also uses a Slack workspace, which is where much of our day-to-day activity and conversations take place. Send us an email with a request to be added to Slack and we’ll get on it!

SWPACC is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization. Thank you to board members and so many volunteers who have put in so much time and energy into this organization since its inception. And a special thank you to our donors for your financial support. It is all of you who give SWPACC life.

Here’s to an impactful 2023. Cheers!

With appreciation, Joel Brady!

Last month, Joel Brady called his final board meeting to order as founding president of the Southwestern PA Climbers Coalition. The Board elected new officers in December 2022, bringing one chapter to a close and opening a new one for the organization.

Stepping into the role of President is (formerly Vice President) Ginette Walker Vinski, with Jennifer Flaggs now as Vice President, DJ Wilmot as Treasurer, and newest board member Eliza Porterfield as Secretary.

While planning to remain actively engaged as a board member and committee member, Joel noted that, after seven years, it was time to pass the leadership baton. He served at the helm of SWPACC since its founding, navigating the organization through its growth from a small grassroots group of dedicated climbers and developers to a ~150 member nonprofit-Access Fund affiliate, which dialogues with land managers, private landowners, and state agencies. During his tenure, the organization has sponsored the re-equipping of hardware at important climbing areas, secured a lease on the parking lot for Breakneck Rocks; sponsored trail days and clean-ups, and more recently, hosted the Access Fund Conservation Team for stewardship of four different climbing areas in the region. Joel also led the organization in establishing its first open elections for board members and a formal committee structure, designed to provide opportunities for leadership and engagement within Southwestern Pennsylvania’s diverse climbing community. All in all, it’s been a lot!

We asked Joel to share some of his reflections on his experiences with SWPACC over the years. Following are the responses he shared. Joel, we’re grateful for your years of commitment and dedication to SWPACC. Thank you for your time and energy!

bio image of joel brady

Q: How did you get involved with SWPACC?

A: I was conscripted. I love SWPACC but serving as president was honestly not my idea. Building upon a couple decades of Access Fund regional representation in the area, there were a few people around 2014/15 who were very active in climbing development in SWPA, who had already opened conversations with Access Fund, and who had already begun engaging in organizing community access initiatives. Through my conversations with those folks, I realized I might be able to help, since, just from having been a climber in the region since the mid-1990s, I happened to know a lot of different climbers from different generations and sectors of our community. I was well-positioned, I think, to bring us together in service of a common goal–to responsibly develop the climbing areas we love in SWPA and secure and preserve our access to them. And once I had gotten us all together around the table, they made me be president.

Q: Thinking back on your years of service as President, what has been most fulfilling for you personally?

A: Anytime we can establish and foster a positive working relationship with a key stakeholder, I get pretty excited about it. We’ve had some big moments like that over the years, whether it’s with DCNR, the State Game Commission, or private landowners. I’ve also found it rewarding when I can get different climbers with different ideas from within our community talking to one another–particularly folks who might disagree with one another. Climbers are not some monolithic entity–they have different interests, motivations, and backgrounds. And while I myself have strong personal views about where the direction of the organization should be, I’ve never viewed my role as President to be about pushing through my own agenda, but rather trying to bring us together around a consensus that the entire leadership and the community we represent can support.

Q: Do you have a proudest moment?

A: I don’t know if I can point to a moment, but it’s been great to see us go from that tiny group of about 15-20 dedicated folks to a membership today of nearly 150, with a formal committee structure to carry out our ever-broadening mission, and numerous dedicated individuals empowered to make contributions where they can. 

Q: Any lessons learned that you’d want to share?

A: Success builds on success. We’ve found that securing a small victory in one area of our mission can unexpectedly pave the way for bigger successes down the line. A huge part of our conversations with potential new partners is to be able to point to previous successful partnerships. To achieve what we want to achieve personally and as a community, we have to be able to demonstrate that we aren’t just individuals obsessed with our next send, but instead, we’re a competent, dedicated, organized group with a mission, vision, structure, and strategic partnerships to make that vision a reality.

Q. What is your most memorable experience with SWPACC?

A: There are a lot of them, but I would say that the Lost Crag re-equip project, more than anything, encapsulates a lot of what the organization has been about–it is both a happy memory and a difficult one, because Lost Crag represents one of our greatest successes and, currently, one of our greatest challenges. I can recall when our board, comprised of individuals who had been a part of climbing at Lost Crag from the beginning, first cautiously discussed asking formal permission from the Pennsylvania Game Commission to replace all that old, rusty, increasingly unsafe hardware at Lost Crag. Although the regional office of the Game Commission had previously told us we could re-equip old hardware on Game Lands, the potential statewide implications of raising climbing’s profile meant we needed to approach this decision with care and tact. Ultimately, we made a calculated, collective, and in my view, well-informed decision to proceed, and after a great day out in the woods with Game Commission representatives to explain the proposal, we were ecstatic to have secured full permission. Over the next three years, we undertook a project involving over a hundred volunteers, over 1,000 volunteer hours, over 10,000 dollars in hardware, and the support of America’s Safe Climbing and an American Alpine Club/Access Fund grant, all carried out through a positive working relationship with the Game Commission. In that sense, the Lost Crag project was–and still is, in my view–a testament to what our organization can achieve collectively. 

On the other hand, sadly in 2022, we were informed that a decision had been made, involving not just the PA Game Commission, but also other state agencies, to completely close certain Game Lands in our area to climbing, due to the potential impact of climbing activities upon habitats of threatened and endangered species. The closure includes not only Lost Crag, but many, many other areas beloved by our community for generations. Still in effect today, it is the single largest closure to climbing in the history of the state–it’s a huge blow for our community and our organization. As a result, I, personally, and we, as an organization, have had to reflect upon whether we made the right decision back in 2018, when we reached out to the Game Commission. And after much reflection, I can honestly say I believe we did the right thing. We made that decision extremely carefully, after much deliberation, weighing the pros and cons with the best information we had at the time; and, in the short term (not that short….three years!), all signs–especially our positive working relationship with the Game Commission–pointed toward the decision having been prudent. Furthermore, the specter of possible closures on Game Lands had preceded our decision, and indeed, preceded the formation of our organization. In fact, one of the first tasks SWPACC took on in the early days, was to join a successful campaign in 2015 to oppose Game Land closures for half the year, which would have affected climbers statewide. Furthermore, the current closure has led us to reflect further upon and take more seriously SWPACC’s identity as a conservation organization. We have increasingly realized how critical it is for us to formally articulate and implement our mission for conversation, and to find ways to partner with state agencies to advance conservation, balanced with responsible recreation, and in particular, rock climbing. This closure is not, I believe, the end of the Lost Crag story. We have a great deal of work still to do. We remain in dialogue with the state agencies who have implemented this closure, we’re working on a solution, and I’m hopeful that Lost Crag, and the other areas affected, will once again be reopened to climbing through a plan that responsibly balances conservation and recreation. 

Local climber seeks to elevate Latinx/Women climbers in new film project

Hey have you heard?  A member of our very own climbing community here in Southwestern PA, Elisa Varlotta, is raising funds to make a film about the women’s climbing community in Colombia!  The goal of this project is to give attention to underrepresented groups while also connecting communities from around the world.  She and the team are presenting “Guerreras” (Women Warriors), a film in the works that will share the untold story of the female climbing community in Colombia. The film will allow climbers from all over the world to connect along shared themes of multiracial identities, Latinx stories, womanhood, and a shared love for climbing. Want to get involved? Share this post with friends or donate to the project via Go Fund Me.  Consider supporting this important work with an all star crew! 

Following is more information direct from the Go Fund Me page:

“Guerreras will capture the untold story of the female climbing community in Colombia and challenge the audience to consider how their own identities intersect with their climbing experiences while simultaneously glimpsing the reality of an underrepresented demographic within the climbing world – Latina climbers.

Given the crucial role of Latinx communities to the U.S. and the lack of U.S. Latinx climbers, we want to spotlight Latin American women as role models for Latinx individuals in the U.S. Most climbing films highlight US or European climbers, and even those that are shot in Latin America, again, usually feature this demographic rather than the climbers from local communities. This film will be different.

Guerreras will allow climbers from all over the world to connect along shared themes of multiracial identities, Latinx stories, womanhood, and a shared love for climbing.

While this story focuses on the Colombian women climbing community, audiences across the world will resonate with its universal themes. Themes such as motherhood, expectations placed on women, balancing life with climbing, body image standards, performance pressure, machismo, and empowering communities will appear. As these ideas are applicable worldwide, we will feature interviews from some of the most influential and most inspiring climbers such as Anna Hazelnutt, Daila Ojeda, Fery Rodriguez, and Nina Williams.

Guerreras entirely features, and has been predominantly produced by, women of marginalized communities.

This film will promote international climbing solidarity and help climbers become more globally aware citizens.”
Film poster promoting Guerreras – Women Warriors, a documentary about the women’s climbing community in Colombia.

Call for Volunteers! Access Fund Conservation Team coming to Pittsburgh 9/8-11

Call for Volunteers!

Access Fund’s Conservation Team is coming to Pittsburgh next week! Join in for multiple days of community, stewardship and climbing. Come lend a hand on Friday or Saturday for trail improvements and general crag cleanup in and around the Pittsburgh area. We need the help! Bring your gear for climbing afterwards, if you’d like! Thanks to Access Fund, ASCEND, Public Lands, and 3ROC for your support of SWPACC and help in making these events happen.
THURSDAY, SEPT. 8
ACCESS FUND + SWPACC CELEBRATION

  • 5:00-9:30 PM
  • Join us and the Access Fund Conservation Team at ASCEND South Side for an engaging night of fun, fundraising, and friends!
  • Get exciting new details about Climb Pittsburgh, hear from Access Fund and other special guests, and help support SWPACC and its mission! 

FRIDAY, SEPT. 9
STEWARDSHIP DAY 1 – TWO OPTIONS TO BE PART OF SOMETHING BIG!

  • Schoolhouse, Ohiopyle – Access trail improvements
    • 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM (Meet at 8:30 AM – Specific details will be shared via email)
    • Sign up here to volunteer so we can get a solid headcount.
  • Seldom Seen – Litter cleanup with Public Lands

SATURDAY, SEPT. 10
STEWARDSHIP DAY 2 – TWO OPTIONS TO BE PART OF SOMETHING BIG!

  • Frank Curto – Litter cleanup and other maintenance
  • Schenley – Light trail work
    • 9:00 AM – 3:00 PM
    • Everyone to meet at Frank Curto at 8:30 AM
    • Some volunteers will stay at Curto; others will head over to Schenley Park, a short drive away.
    • Sign up here to volunteer.

SUNDAY, SEPT. 11
CLIMBER COFFEE AT THE ARENA

  • Join SWPACC and Access Fund for a morning meet-up of fellow climbers. Sip some coffee, learn about how to leave no trace while climbing, then test your endurance on the wall in Oakwood Park!
    • 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM

MONDAY, SEPT. 12RESCHEDULED FOR SEPTEMBER 19 DUE TO WEATHER!!
EVENING MEET-UP AT THE ARENA

  • We love the Arena so much, we’re going there for a second day in a row! Keep up the good vibes from the weekend. Come hang out at Oakwood Park after work with our friends from 3ROC, and give the wall another go around.

 

 

 

3 Rivers Outdoor Company selects SWPACC as Impact Partner

We are thrilled to be 3 Rivers Outdoor Co‘s Community Impact Partner for the second half of 2022! This is a great opportunity for SWPACC to raise some much needed funding and better connect with our community members.

We were grateful to join members of the climbing community, along with 3ROC and Old Thunder Brewing for a kick-off on July 17 at the shop in Regent Square. Thank you to all who stopped by to support our work. It was great to both meet new people and see familiar faces. We are excited to begin this partnership for the next six months!

Next time you’re at 3ROC, check out the in-store tap of Old Thunder Brewing’s Stairs Ascending Pale Ale. A $5 donation to SWPACC gets you a cold one while you’re shopping.

Please join us for future events this year with 3ROC including:

  • August – Date TBA – a meetup at Seldom Seen
  • Sept. 16 –  5 Point Film Festival (raffle proceeds benefit First Waves; beer sales support SWPACC)

As details are finalized and more events are developed, we’ll add information to the SWPACC events calendar. Check back frequently to stay in the loop!

IMPORTANT: PA Game Commission announces closure of State Game Lands 51 and 138 to climbing

On April 5, 2022, the Pennsylvania Game Commission announced the closure to all rock climbing activities on State Game Lands 51 and 138 in Fayette County. The official statement indicates the reason for the closure is habitat preservation of “several rare, threatened or endangered plant and wildlife species.” Last week, upon notification of the impending announcement, the Southwestern PA Climbers Coalition (SWPACC), together with other PA Local Climbing Organizations and Access Fund, submitted a letter to the Game Commission, stressing our commitment to the conservation of wildlife, consistent with Access Fund’s Climbers Pact and “Leave No Trace” ethic, and requesting that we work together to address habitat management concerns while exploring options for maintaining climbing access. Representatives from the Game Commission received and read our letter, and we remain in communication. The Commission has nevertheless moved to implement the closure of Game Lands 51 and 138. You can read the Game Commission’s official press release here:  https://www.media.pa.gov/pages/Game-Commission-Details.aspx?newsid=537

SWPACC and other PA Local Climbing Organizations, including Eastern PA Alliance of Climbers and Southcentral PA Climbers, with the support of Access Fund, remain committed to the vision of balancing rock climbing activities with habitat conservation on State Game Lands, and will continue to work toward that goal. We ask that, in the meantime, all climbers abide by the closure and do not climb on areas located in SGL 51 and 138, the most well-known of which are Coll’s Cove, Lost Crag, The Vault, Casparis, Rob’s Knob, Fish Rocks, and Zebley Flats. We also ask that, rather than contacting the PA Game Commission or other state agencies directly at this time to express your concerns, instead please contact SWPACC at info@swpacc.org  or your local climbing organization and help us in our focused efforts to reopen our beloved climbing areas. As we have updates, we will share them on the SWPACC website and via social media. Thank you for your support and understanding.

Map of State Game Land 51

Map of State Game Land 138

Help secure access to stellar climbing areas in Maryland: write a letter!

[Okay, actually, send an email 🙂 ]


The Background

Climber at Locust Grove
Locust Grove

The area known as Locust Grove, just outside of Cumberland, Maryland has a 40-50 year history of rock climbing, albeit as a “secret crag.” Over 70 routes exist on impeccable rock, half of which are fully equipped sport routes, some reaching 100 feet high.  The majority of the routes are in the 5.9-5.10 range, but there are many excellent beginner routes also, and a handful of excellent 5.11s and 5.12s.  Less than one mile away, in an area called The Narrows, there are close to 200 additional routes (multi-pitch, trad). 

Recently, Locust Grove has been posted with “No Trespassing” signs and climbers have been told to leave the premises. 

Both locations are in close proximity to Wills Mountain State Park in Western Maryland. The park’s current boundary includes part of The Narrows but does not include Locust Grove. There is no legal access to either climbing area.

After 18 months of spearheading a campaign to find a solution to this situation, and pulling in support from the Access Fund and various regional LCOs as well as numerous levels of local and state government (most notably the the Maryland Department of Natural Resources – DNR), SWPACC has learned that the initiative is gaining great momentum. Currently, Maryland DNR is in negotiations with the owners of the rocks at Locust Grove as well as with the various owners of the access trails to The Narrows, with the hopes of extending the boundaries of Wills Mountain State Park to include all of the climbing at both areas as well as the properties necessary for access. Acquiring these lands will allow rock climbers to gain legal access to arguably the best roped climbing within 100 miles of southwestern Pennsylvania. SWPACC is also excited to share the news that as a result of all of this work, a new Local Climbing Organization called the Western Maryland Climbers Coalition (WMCC) has formed to take the lead on this campaign. 

We need your help!

In full solidarity with WMCC, SWPACC is encouraging all regional climbers to send emails to the Superintendent of the Maryland Park Service, Nita Settina, and DNR Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio sharing why these land acquisitions are important to you.  Please send one email addressed to both women: nita.settina@maryland.gov and jeannie.riccio@maryland.gov.

Given that these areas are within 100 miles of not only Pittsburgh, but also DC, Baltimore, Harrisburg and Morgantown, the opportunity for growth in tourism and a subsequent boost in the local economy is high. The proximity is fully within the reach of day trippers. Additionally, the camping accommodations at Rocky Gap State park are of such high quality, that many will begin choosing this area as a much closer option to weekend climbing getaways than Seneca and The New River Gorge that are twice the distance.

Thank you for helping SWPACC support the WMCC to re-open this incredible resource!