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Hundreds of members of Washington’s climbing community converged at four favored sites this summer to carry out much-needed stewardship and conservation work.

Gold Bar’s bouldering hotspots and Index’s Lower Town Wall were two of the targets, as well as trails and lands surrounding crags known as Exit 38 Farside past North Bend and Tieton near Yakima. The Washington Climbers Coalition and Access Fund headed the events.

“The amount of work has been astounding, and the reaction from the climbing community has been awesome,” said WCC board member Jeremy Park.

The inaugural year of the Washington Climbers Coalition Initiative only has a few weekends left of events. Ten were scheduled on Saturdays from mid-July through the end of September.

Park said the WCC and Access Fund, a national advocacy group that works to keep the country’s climbing areas open, for years have collaborated on stewardship efforts in Washington. This was the first time the two nonprofits put something together that is more than a one-time project, he said.

The popularity of climbing has grown significantly in the United States over the past five years, Park said. People are going to climbing gyms, especially for bouldering; the sport can be a social activity and only requires a pair of shoes to get started. The influx has spilled over into the outdoors as well, he said.

Park said the sites in Index, Gold Bar, North Bend and outside Yakima are some of the most heavily used in the state. Access Fund Northwest Regional Director Joe Sambataro said climbers come from around the U.S. to try out routes in those areas.

“Those sites chosen were critical-need sites,” Park said. “They were areas seeing a lot of use but weren’t necessarily getting the stewardship and trail work they needed to support the users.”

About 300 people from the climbing community have jumped in so far to remedy that, Park said. Work at Index finished up on Saturday. In July, volunteers met three times to repair and improve existing pathways below the main bouldering area in Gold Bar. Real trails were never constructed in the area but slowly formed over time from the foot traffic, he said.

Park said people’s natural tendencies to head straight up hill aren’t always a sustainable approach for large groups unfortunately. Some trails have been formed in ways that actually facilitate erosion, so areas have been reinforced and sections rerouted to mitigate impact, he said.

Sambataro said Access Fund’s two-member conservation crews led each event. They are trained to use onsite materials — such as 100-pound rocks — to complete work like hardening the surface of the trails. The pair, who can be sent all over the country, will camp out at a site, sometimes for weeks, until the labor is finished, he said.

Conservation work also helps the climbing community maintain relationships with land managers, Sambataro said. Those connections have helped keep the Gold Bar boulders open in the past; the routes are located on land owned by the Department of Natural Resources, he said.

The state agency has recently directed more support to climbing in the area, according to the WCC. For the past three years they have hosted work parties, and left some shade trees around key boulders during a thinning effort.

Index is the most well known site for climbing in Washington, according to the WCC. Bouldering and trad climbing — a style where climbers use gear to protect themselves from falls — are popular at the spot.

The WCC purchased the Lower Town Wall in 2010 after no trespassing signs were put up around the area the year before, Sambataro said. Trail work has been done there since then, so the property can be donated to the Washington State Parks once agreed-on improvements are finished, he said.

Sambataro said groups like Access Fund are also trying to help show how keeping sites open to climbing can help local economies, especially in rural areas. Park said historically the town of Index and members of the business community have been supportive of their efforts, especially Outdoor Adventures Center owner Blair Corson.

The WCCI events will also be held again in 2018 at the same locations in Index and Gold Bar, Park said. Other spots are yet to be determined.

Park said this year about $20,000 was received from donors, such as the Seattle Bouldering Project and Stone Gardens. The total included a $12,000 grant from REI, to help pull off the efforts. The company has approved another $10,000 for next year, he said.

“I would say overall this has been an amazing success and would like to thank all of the partners that helped get this off the ground,” he said.