Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Boulder City Council Elections and Climbing Access

The recent flood-induced closures on Boulder OSMP land and in RMNP (not to mention the government shutdown) have made climbers acutely aware of how important unhindered access to public lands is to their lives. Living next to OSMP open space, I can speak to the value it adds to my family's health and that of the surrounding community. I can think of no other community in the country with such diverse and easily accessible publicly-owned open space. It is a unique and irreplaceable treasure for present and future generations.

Boulder has invested heavily in this land in many ways and discussion about the future of its public lands has always figured prominently in local politics, going back over half a century. There is a new sense of urgency in the climbing community in the wake of the flood closures, perhaps building on the West TSA plan and the establishment of HCA zones that require permission to visit or travel off-trail in. A recent proposed (and then cancelled) meeting of climbers with two candidates for Boulder City Council certainly raised the profile of climbers' involvement in Boulder politics even further.

Last week an op-ed piece was published by representatives from the Access Fund and the Flatirons Climbing Council, both of which I have done volunteer work for (as well as for OSMP), that stated that "certain City Council members, unprompted and without a formal vote, identified several 'overarching issues' for further study. The list included the twice-rejected subjects of off-trail restrictions and nighttime curfews. OSMP staff have taken council members' comments as direction to consider implementing these additional restrictions." You can read a study on night access here. Whether climbers' fears of increased restrictions are valid or not, there is a growing consensus that there needs to be more involvement with the process of planning and decision-making at OSMP.

After discussion with various climber access advocates, I decided to ask the two candidates most favored by them, Andrew Shoemaker and Ed Byrne, about their positions regarding climbing access in Boulder OSMP lands so that any climbers reading this blog can have an additional resource for choosing representation in city government. I sent them each identical questions which they promptly responded to, indicating that they take OSMP access seriously. By the way, as a resident of unincorporated Boulder County, I do not vote in the city elections and this post is not a formal endorsement of either candidate.

1. How do you see yourself as an advocate for recreational use of OSMP land?

Prior to the flood, I used OSMP every day -- either for cycling, walking my dog, hiking, fly-fishing, climbing, paddling or cross country skiing. Additionally, I organized the Boulder stage of the 2012 USA Pro Challenge bike race ending on Flagstaff Mountain; in part to publicize Boulder and its open space program. Responsible enjoyment of open space encourages the preservation of open space and the formation of an environmental consciousness. Indeed, some of our great environmental activists were climbers, surfers, skiers (among other things) first -- their environmental ethos then arose out of their passion for being in the outdoors.

EB  We are fortunate to live on the north side of the open space between Broadway and Wonderland Lake in North Boulder. We have had many opportunities to hike, run, bike, and snowshoe here and on many other trails in Boulder's system, averaging about one or two visits per week.

We did not spend our community’s hard-earned tax dollars to create opportunities for citizens to “look” at our open space – passive recreation, including cycling and off-leash dog use in designated areas is permitted by the City’s home rule Charter, and I will advocate for recreational use to continue, and to expand modestly in order to relieve pressure on the system and promote a high quality experience for all users.

When negative impacts arise, we should address them, but we will never have the resources to hire enough rangers to catch every violator – we need buy-in from Boulder’s responsible citizens, who together are our best defense against the 3-4% who don’t treasure our OSMP as much as the vast majority do.

2. What are your views on tightening off-trail/nighttime access in OSMP land? 

AS  I am opposed. 

EB  We have enough OSMP rules and regulations. I have not been persuaded that we have a problem with off-trail or night-time use of open space such that prohibition of access is warranted. We don’t need more reasons for clashes between OSMP rangers and citizens enjoying Boulder’s OSMP. I believe that our rangers have an extremely difficult job, made more difficult by an enforcement focus that tends to alter their perception of OSMP users as potential "violators" instead of "valued customers." Such perceptions tend to fester over time as preconceptions are reinforced by negative encounters, while positive ones are often taken for granted.

In the mid-1980s, when I was the prosecutor, negative encounters between parking control officers (PCOs) and downtown visitors became so prevalent that I called the PCOs in for a customer service training session. While writing 300 tickets per day, the PCOs met about 5 citizens, and every meeting seemed to turn into a shouting match. "Give them warnings," I said. Collections went up. Appeals went down. Skirmishes ended. Rangers should be trained in a similar manner. Catch people doing things right. Praise them. Warn violators. Keep track of the warnings. Punish repeat offenders.

3. If elected to the City Council, how do you see yourself affecting the decisions made about OSMP land use in the future?

AS  My demographic (mid-40s, family, moved to Boulder to make a living while enjoying outdoor recreation lifestyle activities like climbing, paddling, cycling, skiing, etc.) is unrepresented on Council, even though outdoor recreation enthusiasts, professionals, and businesses make up much of Boulder. As such, I will bring a new perspective for Council to every Council meeting and to the appointment of members of City boards (such as the Open Space Board of Trustees). The City boards are very important, and therefore who is appointed to these boards is critical. For example, the City Council appoints the Open Space Board of Trustees, which makes recommendations and decisions about open space policy. My style of affecting decisions is one that works well in Boulder -- one of collaboration and consensus building rather than telling people what to do. I have good relationships with members of the open space department (from my Pro Challenge work) as well as with the outdoor recreation community. I hope to work together with both to preserve existing access and to facilitate responsible use of open space.

EB  I have known Mike Patton since he was the Human Resources Director for the City in the 1980s and I was an assistant city attorney. His responsibilities have changed, but I know he has a strong grasp of what makes Boulder special, including our community’s love for and stewardship of OSMP lands. I believe Mike will respond effectively to the concerns I have heard from many Boulder citizens concerning a perception that an adversarial relationship is growing between some rangers and certain members of the public who enjoy using OSMP lands. There’s no call for that – it diminishes broad-based support for “crowd-sourcing” protection of our open space.

I would like to thank Ed Byrne and Andrew Shoemaker for their help. For more information on all the candidates' positions on issues of relevance to the election please visit http://www.boulderblueline.org/election-2013/

I invite comments or communication from other candidates or officials as well. Please remember to vote! There are serious issues on the ballot including municipalization of electricity and much more.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Getting There: Front Range Climbing Access Progress Report

Since my last post, some important progress has been made regarding access to climbing near Boulder. Eldorado Canyon remains closed but I am optimistic this will change very soon. Many more trails are open on OSMP land including Fern Canyon and Shadow Canyon, though climbing is still closed. The lower Satellite Boulders, between the Second and Third Flatiron, are now open which is really the first significant reopening of bouldering in the Flatirons since the flood. The First and Third are open to roped climbing though the south side of the Third (and the Royal Arch area in general) is closed.

OSMP is having volunteer climbing surveyors go out into various sectors to assess damage and safety issues which I think will be very useful in getting many more areas open. I am participating in this process and will report on what I know and have heard. I have visited the Satellite Boulders twice in the past week and am struck by how little damage occurred outside the main gullies and washes below the Flatirons. My belief is this will be the case for most of the popular areas including Fern Canyon and Dinosaur Mountain. That said there is a rumor that Black Ice may be no more...

Really big news was the early reopening of Boulder Canyon. The NFS is maintaining a closure on the north side of the canyon but this leaves quite a lot open on the south, including most of the good bouldering, which is all still intact and accessible. Castle Rock, on Boulder County land, is now open as well. Opening 119 also radically lessens the approach time to Estes Park, allowing much-needed tourist traffic to get to the beleagured town.

That said the antics of the GOP's Tea Party wing are still afflicting the region as the National Park remains closed. Hopefully this will be resolved soon and things can begin to recover, especially once 36 re-opens which I am guessing will be sooner rather than later.

As I said before, areas to the north and further south have been open and attracting more than their usual quota of visitors, owing to the access issues around Boulder and RMNP. And of course area gyms have helped make up for the closures as well. But I think everyone will breathe a sigh of relief once things are a bit more back to normal. And of course for those whose homes have been devasteded by the flood, things may never be back to normal. Check out http://donateboulder.org/
or http://www.unitedwayfoothills.org/  for info on how you can help.

UPDATE: As of today, October 12, Rocky Mountain National Park has been temporarily reopened with state funding

ANOTHER UPDATE: The problem mentioned above, Black Ice, along the Fern CanyonTrail, is no more.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Update from Boulder: Not Much Better

It's been about three weeks since the last post and I thought I would post an update. It should probably be titled, "Just When You Thought it Couldn't Get Worse" because that is exactly what has happened. Courtesy of Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives, a federal government shutdown has eliminated access to Rocky Mountain National Park and possibly hindered reconstruction efforts on Highway 36 from the National Guard. For icing on the cake (literally, well literally ice anyway) snow is forecast for Friday across the Front Range. This will seriously hamper the many efforts being made to clean up and restore the small mountains towns hit so hard by the flood in September.

So what's up climbing-wise? Lincoln Lake is closed now and Evans Area A is going to be getting snowier by the day, along with all other alpine locales such as Guanella Pass. Access to the Estes Park region, seriously affected by both flooding and the NPS closures already, is only by a lengthy and tedious (though scenic) crawl from Central City far to the south. Clear Creek is open, which is why I was trying Echale last Saturday, but more about that another time. Coal Creek Canyon is closed.

Eldorado Canyon is still closed though heavy equipment has been in place trying to repair the road and volunteers have been on the ground working on trails. The real mystery is Boulder's Open Space and Mountain Parks department. After an initial wave of openings, the only "legal" climbing in their jurisdiction at this writing is on the First Flatiron and the mediocre bouldering on Mount Sanitas. While unofficial word is that trails on Bear Peak and Green Mountain and elsewhere have been minimally affected, if at all, there has been complete silence on the condition of or any plans to reopen Flagstaff Mountain, the Mesa Trail or any of the significant trails on Bear or Green. In a peculiar instance of inconsistency, the trail to the Satellites is open but the boulders themselves are closed to climbing. Local dissatisfaction with this situation has been increasing as the time from the flood increases and it becomes increasingly apparent that in many locations trail damage has actually been insignificant. Furthermore despite the availability of literally hundreds of volunteers and OSMP claims of major damage, virtually no opportunities for trail reconstruction or rehabilitation have been posted. You can find out which trails are open at this OSMP page. (UPDATE: there may be plans for OSMP to enlist climbing volunteers to assess climbing areas in the Flatirons. Check the FCC page for more details. Also see this announcement from the BCC.)

Boulder Canyon remains closed as the road (SH119) is undergoing emergency repair to get it passable before winter proper begins. This is expected by mid to late October but whether the NFS will immediately re-open the land bordering the road is another question altogether. As mentioned above Highway 36 between Lyons and Estes is being rebuilt but a full reconstruction of the road will have to wait until next year. Highway 34 between Estes Park and Loveland was hit incredibly hard and will be out indefinitely. Further north things are brighter with Carter Lake, the areas around Fort Collins (Horsetooth, Arthur's) and Poudre Canyon all being open. Areas to the south, especially south of Denver, are generally accessible and open, though how the federal government shutdown may affect certain spots (such as Shelf Road) is not exactly clear.

So in a nutshell, I would not especially recommend coming to Boulder for climbing at this point. Climbing access is basically still on hold and with winter approaching, options are narrowing. This may sound like whining, especially given the catastrophic destruction and losses so many have experienced. However for lots of Front Range residents, the opportunity to run, hike, ride and climb without driving long distances is much needed stress relief in these difficult times. It's bad enough when natural destruction hinders these opportunities but worse when political obstruction extends this peculiar exile from our own backyard.