A guest post from Erik Murdock, Policy Director at Access Fund and GIS Lab Director at Outdoor Alliance.
Climbing in the footsteps of a president
Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most important supporters of natural spaces. Roosevelt appreciated adventure and understood the value of preserving wild environments -- rugged landscapes have long been the muse for conservationists. During his tenure as the president of the United States, between 1901 and 1908, Teddy travelled extensively throughout the United States and played a major role in establishing the national park system, but he also explored the natural areas close to home when he needed his fix.
In 2015, the Land and Water Conservation Fund turned fifty years old. The Fund has been used to expand protected areas and improve recreation facilities in all 50 states. It is a budget neutral program that is supported entirely by off-shore drilling. And now, in 2015, Congress could not agree to re-authorize the program for another year.
In late September, 2015, before LWCF officially lapsed, Outdoor Alliance, the national organization composed of member organizations that represent climbers, paddlers, mountain bikers, and backcountry skiers, congregated the human-powered recreation community from key states to educate members of Congress who were on the fence about LWCF. Some policymakers were compelled by the fun-hogs, and others would not support any program that could “expand the federal estate.” The fun-hogs don’t regard the land as “federal estate.” To us, these are “our public lands,” and they are the lifeblood of the American people. President Obama said that our public lands are our “birthright,” and the fun-hogs couldn’t agree more.
I recently moved to the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, a move that is a mixed bag as a climber and the Access Fund policy director. Washington, D.C. is the center of the policy world and being stationed in D.C. for a few years will only help our organization further its mission to protect access and conserve climbing environments. But as a climber, the move from Tucson, Arizona—recently voted the best climbing city in the country—was a hard pill to swallow. When Zachary, Access Fund affiliate director, flew in to D.C. to serve as the LWCF campaign’s Tennessee representative, I thought we might benefit from some local inspiration. How did Teddy keep up the stoke in D.C.? We decided to take inspiration from Teddy’s explorations of D.C.’s public lands, starting with some bouldering along the Anacostia.
Zachary and I drove out the driveway of my suburban abode and continued south on Columbia Pike to a low point in the Anacostia watershed. We parked next to a Sunoco station and started to walk eastward downstream along the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River. The metamorphic rock exposed in the rocky gorge is solid, gritty, and well-featured. We climbed boulders that looked good and explored some lines that were covered in moss and leaves. While in the gorge, we couldn’t hear the nearby highway or see beyond the hillside of dogwood and maple trees. Teddy loved to scramble through the gorge and we were finding out why. In 1904 he said, “Mother and I had a most lovely ride the other day, way Mills, where beyond Sligo Creek to what is called North-west Branch, at Burnt Mills, where is a beautiful gorge, deep and narrow, with great boulders and even cliffs.” We worked some harder problems and walked out with the content sensation of tingling fingertips from the abrasive rock. Teddy said, “Excepting Great Falls it is the most beautiful place around here. Mother scrambled among the cliffs in her riding habit, very pretty and most interesting.”
The next stop on the Teddy scrambling circuit was his favorite place in the metropolitan area: Great Falls. We drove around the Beltway to the Langley exit and entered the nearly empty national park in the early afternoon. As we scrambled down to the rocky shore of the Potomac River, we pretended to follow in Teddy’s soloing circuit up and down the jagged schist cliffs. We followed the River Trail downstream and walked past a grove of Paw Paw trees. When we reached the Aid Box, an historic climbing site with a nice variety of short, steep, sandbagged top-ropes, we set up a few ropes. The climbing at Great Falls is technical and powerful. The routes have served as the training ground for many well-known climbers and provide a respectable fix for local climbers who want a quick pump. We cranked off some classics and headed back in waning light while we reflected on how the day’s experience might have compared to Teddy’s frequent close-to-home adventures.
These lands, our lands, are important to us. Our public lands inspired one of our greatest presidents and continue to inspire fun-hogs to this day. How can Congress not re-authorize LWCF, a program that grows and nurtures the public lands that inspire some of our country’s greatest citizens, and provides enjoyment and health benefits to all Americans? Would Teddy have kept up the stoke for so long had it not been for close-to-home adventures? Could I keep up the stoke without our public lands? The stakes are high, and I’d rather not find out.