Oak Flat, AZ— Open for Climbing

After 2+ years of negotiations, the Access Fund has successfully negotiated a license that will keep climbing open for most of Oak Flat and Queen Creek, AZ.

After 2+ years of negotiations, the Access Fund has successfully negotiated a license that will keep climbing open for most of Oak Flat and Queen Creek, AZ.

The license ensures continued public access to The Pond and Atlantis sport climbing areas—Resolution Copper Company (RCC) private property—and to most of the bouldering found at Oak Flat (public land that will be transferred to RCC in the SE Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2006 which still awaits Congressional approval).

Oak Flat is a federally protected national recreation area set aside in 1955. RCC discovered a copper deposit under the popular bouldering area and proposed the land exchange bill. The Access Fund strongly opposed the land exchange as it was initially drafted and negotiated an outcome that provided continued access to much of Oak Flat and Queen Creek. With the help of climbers across the country, decision makers heard climbers' voices and while the land exchange moves forward, climbers' interests are being addressed.

Access Fund Policy Director Jason Keith explains, “preserving Oak Flat access was a long and complicated process that we engaged in due to the threat of completely losing Oak Flat. All climbing areas are unique and they can't be replaced by simply bolting new crags elsewhere.”

What Climbers Have Won The Access Fund's efforts, along with the Friends of Queen Creek (FoQC) www.friendsofqueencreek.com, have created a cooperative relationship with RCC to allow continued access to Oak Flat for a period of 5 years (or longer subject to RCC's exploration and mining development in the area) after the land exchange takes effect. This recreational use license also provides continued public access to The Pond and Atlantis – two popular crags on RCC property in Queen Creek Canyon that could have been closed at any time by the mining company. This process of negotiation also resulted in RCC providing climbers a “replacement area” at Tam O'Shanter Peak (Tamo). Tamo will become a state park that specifically accommodates climbers when the land exchange becomes law.

What Climbers Have Lost Due to their close proximity to RCC's existing mining operations, two climbing areas on RCC private property—Eurodog Valley and The Mine Area—will be closed to public access once the SE Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2006 becomes law. Further, RCC may begin some limited test drilling on small parcels of 3,025 acre Oak Flat which may affect access periodically and temporarily.

What Climbers Would Have Lost If the Access Fund and FoQC had not stepped in and aggressively defended climber interests, climbers could have lost all access to Oak Flat and had no assurance of continued access to Atlantis and The Pond.

While not all climbing access was maintained, a clear message has been sent challenging the precedent that federally protected public lands can be sold as soon as something of value is discovered, thus pushing out the user groups of those lands. This is a victory for the Access Fund and the climbing community's long-term vision of protecting climbing resources for future generations.

“This victory sends a strong message that we, the owners of public lands, are not going to accept losing our land because of a short-term money-making objective,” says Steve Matous, the Access Fund's Executive Director. “The long-term benefits of protecting our public lands, and in this case a public recreation area, far outweigh short term uses that change the landscape forever.”

Despite a sometimes adversarial campaign to Save Oak Flat, the Access Fund created a “winning political and negotiating strategy by involving local Arizona climbers, holding firm to our mission, and using every advocacy tool available to us,” says Keith. Efforts included organizing a local climbing advocacy organization (FoQC), lobbying at the federal, state and local levels, working with the outdoor industry, supporting local outreach efforts, and consulting with mining and public lands experts.

Curt Shannon of FoQC explains, “Oak Flat is an important place for many climbers and other people to experience the magic of the desert. Maintaining access to this area is important on so many levels. As a climbing community, we can't just throw up our hands and walk away to find a new place to climb when closure is threatened. The Access Fund and the Friends of Queen Creek were the only united front in trying to keep Oak Flat open and while it's not a perfect arrangement, it's far better than losing Oak Flat altogether.”

About The Access Fund Since 1990, the Access Fund has been the only national advocacy organization that keeps climbing areas open and conserves the climbing environment. The Access Fund supports and represents over 1.6 million climbers nationwide in ALL forms of climbing; rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, and bouldering. Five core programs support the mission on national and local levels: public policy, stewardship & conservation (including grants), grassroots activism, climber education, and land acquisition. For more information visit "www.accessfund.org/" or www.boulderproject.org/.