Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Hurrah For The Ontario Access Coalition

The other day at the gym, someone asked me about the meaning of the Ontario Access Coalition sticker on my water bottle.

I laughed, and sheepishly told them that, although I’ve been a member in the past, I don’t have anything to do with the OAC in terms of participation. But I’m appreciative that the OAC exists, generally -- and here’s why...

What does the Ontario Access Coalition do?

The OAC works “to keep [Ontario] climbing and bouldering areas open in an environmentally responsible manner.”

Which is a noble way of saying, it’s a volunteer not-for-profit that deals with the thorny world of access issues.

Somebody has to put in the interminable, tedious hours to advocate, communicate, and hand-hold with other climbers, parks management, government agencies, private land-owners, conservation authorities, and other stakeholders -- from the perspective of climbers.

Few individuals have the time, resources -- or persistence -- to sustain that sort of activity. Even mentioning it makes my eyes glaze over. Plus, climbers can be a fractious lot. Having a patient group of moderately organized volunteers -- with a mandate that most people can agree on -- provides continuity, and a single voice in those discussions, which literally take place over the course of years and never end.

To me, as a climber, the value is clear. I’m thankful that someone else is doing that work, to enable access for all of us -- even when I’m not totally in agreement with everything that they’re doing, or overly impressed with the glacial pace of progress on certain issues.

Examples of Ontario Access Coalition wins

Did you know that bouldering in Niagara Glen was nearly banned in 2009? Over the following two year period, the OAC worked with the Niagara Parks Commission to formally legitimize bouldering in the area in the context of a fee and waiver system. Sure, a lot of people I know weren’t happy about the implementation of fees -- but I also know they were grateful that the activity wasn’t banned altogether.

There’s a similar story with respect to the restoration of bouldering access at Halfway Log Dump -- a difficult, bureaucratic process that played out over seven years with Parks Canada. Without the intervention of the OAC, climbers might not have legal access to those (and other) areas.

In addition to that work, the OAC also provides crag statuses, coordinates area clean-up days, and holds occasional talks. All good stuff for the community.

The OAC Code of Ethics

If you’re visiting Ontario or otherwise climbing in the region, these are the ethics the OAC promotes:
  • Aspire to climb and boulder without leaving a trace
  • Maintain a low profile
  • Use existing trails
  • Dispose of human waste properly
  • Understand and respect historical ethics and restrictions [cough. Oh, Ontario!]
  • Respect the rules
  • Park and camp only in designated areas
  • Climb and boulder safely
  • Increase climber awareness of key plant species to be protected

Find out more about the OAC

Some links to check out:
TwitterFacebookGoogle+Ontario Access Coalition website

It’s a $5 donation for a lifetime individual membership. Be glad someone is on our side, doing the boring dirty work. If you climb outside in Ontario, you ought to sign up -- if only for the climbing karma!