By Gary Milner and Jennifer Knell, Corvallis, and others listed below
From the newspaper we learned that Michael Moore and Dane Scott of Missoula are developing Mill Creek in the Bitterroot as a climbing destination. A blogger, Ken Turley also promotes the area via a website (Millcreek.blogspot.com).
As local residents we see changes to the landscape. We’ve observed illegally created trails with severe erosion problems that would never meet Forest Service standards. We’ve observed route information written on walls in chalk and climbing equipment left hanging on cliffs. We’ve packed out trash. We’ve seen belay stations, made with 3-4 ft. rebar pounded into the base of climbing walls, often exposed, creating a hazard, or left lying around. The base of one wall (about 20 x 100 ft. on an approximate 35% grade) once covered with lush vegetation, has become devoid of plant life from overuse. We’ve observed a parking area designed for about 3 vehicles near Pinesdale, crowded with up to 12 vehicles.
Michael and Dane demonstrate great energy at developing the area. Newspapers, websites and even a guidebook online attest to this. However, there seems little thought of a sustainable plan compatible with the area. Their website focuses on access and “rights” to climb, but absent that we can find, are any substantial messages on carrying capacities, environmental damage, impacts to local residents, or a sustainable plan for the area. We’d hoped that ethical, low impact standards, involving local people would have been in place before development began.
The Access Fund (a national climbing organization) provides a Climbing Management Plan (CMP) that addresses low impact techniques and collaboration. We encourage the developers of the area to read the CMP. Many ethical climbers support and adhere to these guidelines. It’s a good starting point to protect the sport, address local concerns, and safeguard the canyon’s fragile beauty.
To those developing the area, what is your current and long term plan that promotes low impact, ethical climbing and protects the plants and animals who live there? What is planned regarding road maintenance and dust abatement for local families living along the approach roads? Will locals pay for this? How will increased traffic impact our quality of life? Regarding route density, what is the area’s carrying capacity? How will parking needs be met to ensure the needs of hikers, horse riders and others? How will impacts over time to roads, and to plants/animals (including raptors) be monitored? Should we expect so much climbing equipment left hanging on the cliffs? Will increased use influence hunting opportunities? Is this how you plan to develop other canyons in the Bitterroot? These are a few of our questions.
No one is trying to stop climbing. Climbing is a long established tradition in the Bitterroots. Blodgett canyon has been climbed in for decades with minimal impacts compared to what Mill now suffers from. The development in Mill seems more appropriate for a climbing gym. We believe with the “right” to develop an area, comes a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure an area’s natural integrity and to minimize impacts to locals. So far, however, we’re seeing a lot of damage. Having a sustainable, low impact plan, helps protect this beautiful place, and will protect climbing. Until a collaborative sustainable plan is developed, we hope climbers will tread lightly on this already degraded area.
We hope that Dane and Michael will consider meeting with us. As locals, we’ll listen, and share our concerns in a respectful manner. The Stevensville District office has our contact information.
Nancy Joy Valk