Monday’s Rock Climber Info Session

Back in 2005, the NCC attempted to ban climbing on the escarpment altogether. The Coalition was formed at that time. In 2006, under the original Coalition structure, an agreement was worked out between the NCC and the climbing community. Most of you are probably aware of the contents of that agreement. It eliminated climbing in certain parts of the escarpment and imposed some best practices on the climbers as to what we should be doing out there in the park.

By all reports, the NCC’s been extremely pleased with the level of compliance that the community has shown towards that agreement, and it’s worked out for them very well,as far as I know. I haven’t heard any complaints about it, and as far as I know, nobody else has.

That agreement was valid for I believe it was a year. In any case, it was renewed a couple times since then. The last renewal at the beginning of 2009 was for one further year, and it expired at the end of 2009. So in December, it ceased to be in force.

Around this time last year, the NCC’s second workshop for their ecosystems conservation plan was held. Members of the community and other interest groups attended, and basically we were presented with a second draft of what the contractor, Del Degan Masse, produced.

Most of you are probably aware of what was in the summary that was released by the NCC. The plan was actually formalized, I think it was in September, presented to the NCC board in November, and released in February, I believe.

Essentially, what this contractor produced was a series of recommendations that went into this plan, and what they were recommending to the NCC was that climbing be limited to the two or three most affected rock cliff faces in the Gatineau Park, which brings us to this current situation that we’re in now.

Despite the fact that the NCC claims to be engaged in a process where community involvement is at work and where user input is valued, that hasn’t been what we’ve noticed happen over the last couple of years.

I believe at this point that the NCC has already produced a draft agreement that they want to present us with at their earliest convenience. I believe they wanted to have it done before May 1.

In the NCC’s eyes, they’re really viewing this as a transition year. They ideally would like to have all these changes that they’re proposing in place by this time next year. So before the next climbing season starts, all these measures were to be put in place.

These measures, they’re proposing to limit climbing access to the Twin Ribs, so Copacabana and Down Under, Eastern Block, and Home Cliff West, which is the Main Corner and the Peggy area. That’s all the climbing that they are willing to allow on the Eardley Escarpment. Mostly the reasoning is that these are the areas that are already most affected.

In addition to this, they are also proposing to ban ice climbing, citing as justification some regulations regarding winter use trails being prohibited. Additionally, they’ve also already started to implement some of these initiatives that they have developed based on the recommendations in the park.

A lot of you are probably aware that the hang‑gliding parking area has already been closed. A culvert’s been dug, and there is no access to that parking lot anymore. They state that that parking lot was disused.

Obviously anyone who’s actually been there knows that that parking lot and overflowing every weekend. They’ve done this without any consultation to anyone. It was a surprise when this happened. People just showed up and were wondering what was going on.

So that’s the situation as it stands today. Essentially, the NCC seems to be just going ahead with whatever they’ve decided to do based on recommendations of a consultant in a process that hasn’t had any meaningful input from the community.

There are still a lot of things that we don’t know. They have produced a report on a study that they commissioned also over the last year or so. Essentially, they’ve taken eight of the most frequently used sites on the escarpment and counted the number of rare plants that occur in the area.

They’ve established some criteria for evaluating the ecological value, and the climbing interest, and other aspects of these eight areas and have used that information to determine which areas they want to keep open to climbing. As I mentioned, it was those four areas: Twin Ribs, Eastern Block, and Home Cliff West.

What they don’t mention explicitly is bouldering. They do acknowledge in that study report that bouldering is a type of climbing, and they do in one spot mention that it does happen in some of the zones that they surveyed. But that is the only reference that they have, and it’s the only information that they’ve provided to the Coalition.

Up until this written occurrence in the report, bouldering didn’t exist. In addition to what is in the report ‑ well, probably more important is what isn’t in the report ‑ and anything that isn’t specifically spelled out in the report as being an area that is going to be left open is closed.

So all access is prohibited to any area not listed in the report. Like I mentioned, they only surveyed eight of the most populous areas and they’ve left out all the outlying areas. So there are a lot of things we still don’t understand about what the NCC is planning to do about climbing.

It’s clear that the NCC doesn’t understand what climbers are looking for in terms of recreational experience. It’s clear from information in the report that they don’t have any experience managing climbing activities. They don’t have any expert knowledge on climbing. Some of the conclusions they’ve drawn are based on the impacts of climbing that they perceive seem to be related to climbing practices that are decades out of date.

So we have a lot of issues with what we don’t know about the NCC’s plans and what the NCC doesn’t know about climbing.

In addition, there’s been a very large disconnect in terms of how they’ve been interacting with the community. They, like I mentioned, they claim to have a transparent and community involved process and that simply hasn’t borne out to be the case.

We’re getting dictated to based on misinformation and regressive management practices that really aren’t defensible in terms of any modern management that they bring us.

So our position, essentially then, is that the process hasn’t happened. The process that needs to happen to develop proper climbing access management in the Gatineau Park simply hasn’t happened. Nothing that the NCC has shown us demonstrates that they’ve been willing to actually engage in a meaningful process with us despite claims to the contrary.

One thing that’s for sure is that the climbing community does care greatly about the ecological integrity of the escarpment and the whole Gatineau Park. As far as the NCC’s concerned, I’m sure that they see it differently but they’re badly misinformed.

The Coalition is committed a management plan with the NCC that ensures the protection of the escarpment and protects climbing access. There are methodologies that can be employed, tools that can be used, processes that can be put in place that would ensure that both of these goals can be met.

So what are we going to do? How are we going to convince them of this? It was my hope that we were going to be able to have dialogue to develop this process together. But the communication we’ve had with the NCC over the past couple of weeks ‑ well, mainly the last communication I had with them where they requested a meeting with the Coalition in order to present us with an access agreement ‑ left me with the impression that they’re not interested in the process.

How do we engage them in that process? I think that the way we have to go about doing that is by employing public influence. We have a post card campaign directed at the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. We have that ready to go.

We’ll be asking the community to write letters, email the CEO of the NCC, email John Baird, who’s the Minister of Transport, and hopefully with these measures, we will create an atmosphere where they’ll be more inclined towards a collaborative process with the Coalition.

So essentially, we need the membership to go ahead and make that happen for us. We’ll make this as easy as possible for people to be able to do this. We got some postcards that we’re ready to distribute, and all you have to do is sign your name and mail it in. We have an action center that will be live on the website shortly to help you email the people in question, some topics suggestions for a letter you might write to these people.

On the other side of the equation will be the Coalition’s approach towards NCC Park Management in order to try and promote the idea of this process. We’re really demanding from them that they sit down with us and work out something that will work for everybody because it is possible. They are simply choosing not to engage in it, and I think that’s what we have to change.

The details of what stays open, what to close, those are things that we aren’t ready to discuss with them yet because there’s no framework in which we can address those issues. We haven’t got any way of having meaningful communication with the NCC, based on what they’ve provided to us now.

If they’re willing to work with us, that is the goal, that we develop, as I mentioned, this framework that we can come to agreement on access and figuring out how we protect ecology, how we protect access, how do we do these things together? That’s something that the community can get behind and that’s something that everyone wins at.

If we can’t make that happen, the only alternative for the Coalition is simply to withdraw from the process. We can’t continue to be a contact point for the NCC to this community. Essentially, the Coalition cannot agree to something the community will not support. So being presented with an agreement, really it’s rather silly. An agreement is something that parties come to together. I think that’s the direction the NCC and the Coalition should be taking.

So my hope is that we can make that happen. My fear is that it’s going to be messy.

END OF TRANSCRIPT

The full audio ran a full hour and a half. I’ve pulled out a few of the gems that struck me.

Note that these are my memories of what was said, not direct quotes. Further they are hearsay as opposed to allegations.

  • Some people had read the Ecosystem Conservation Plan in detail, including documents and studies referenced as sources and pointed out that some of the authors of these cited studies had subsequent study reports that were not mentioned in the Plan yet which called into question the very conclusions that the Plan relied on.
  • One or more people were reported to have been hired by the NCC to survey climbers but the climbers felt that the results that these studies produced were not what the NCC wanted to hear and so the survey staff were not renewed in their contract and the study results never seen publicly.
  • The NCC is said to have budgeted $1.6 million to rehabilitate the climbing sites.
  • The NCC were said to have used proximity to parking as a measure of how desirable a climbing route might be to a climber.
  • As the 2010 climbing season approached the coalition is said to have offered to re-sign the 2009 MOU until the new MOU could be worked out but the NCC had not been interested.
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