Wichita Mountains Climbers Coalition History
During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, technical rock climbing was becoming an increasingly popular recreational activity throughout the United States. Climbing, which was once little-known to the general public and practiced by only a few thousand dedicated individuals, quickly grew to become a mainstream recreational pursuit enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people. The majority of this activity was taking place on public lands managed by the U. S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Faced with increasing numbers of climbers and growing concerns over the impacts of climbing, land managers began comprehensive reviews of the activity to determine what steps should be taken to insure that natural resources were protected. In many areas around the country, these reviews resulted in the establishment of a climbing management plan designed to minimize any impacts from climbing activity. Often, these plans involved some type of partnership arrangement between the climbing community and area land managers. The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge soon became one of many popular climbing areas in the U.S. to undergo such a process.
In 1993, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) initiated numerous Environmental Assessments at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge (Refuge) for the purposes of determining whether technical rock climbing and other recreational activities were causing singificant impacts to refuge resources. In the early stages of this process, a considerable amount of public controversy was created when it was announced that climbing, which had been a compatible use of the refuge since the early 1940’s, was to be terminated. In order to meet that threat, hundreds of local climbers from Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, and Missouri formed the Wichita Mountains Access Association (WMAA) to represent the rock climbing community in its efforts to insure that rock climbing was not eliminated as a recreational opportunity at the Refuge.
In 1995, following two years of additional reviews, numerous discussions with the WMAA, and considerable input from the public, the Refuge released the Final Environmental Assessment for Technical Rock Climbing, and the USFWS issued a Decision Notice and FINDING OF NO SIGNIFICANT IMPACT (FONSI) for Technical Rock Climbing. These documents found that climbing could continue as a compatible recreational activity at the Refuge, subject to a few additional regulations and assistance from local climbers in managing the impacts of the activity. To fulfill that requirement, the WMAA determined that the climbing community would best be served by forming a new non-profit, volunteer climber’s organization.
On February 26, 1996, the Executive Committee of the WMAA executed the formal Charter of the Wichita Mountains Climbers Coalition (WMCC). The WMCC was created to represent the interests of rock climbers from Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, and Missouri who frequent the Refuge, and to work directly with the USFWS to protect the rock climbing resources and natural environment of the refuge.
As its first official act of business, the Board of Directors of the WMCC signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the USFWS on May 6, 1996. Under the terms of that five year agreement, the WMCC committed to assist the USFWS in managing rock climbing activity at the Refuge by providing guidance on critical climbing issues, organizing volunteer conservation projects, establishing an Advisory Bolting Committee (ABC), and educating the climbing community on resource protection.
Since that time, the WMCC has developed a successful working relationship with USFWS management and personnel at the Refuge, and has provided substantial assistance on a number of important projects, including: design and printing of an informational rock climbing brochure, installation of a climbing and backcountry bulletin board, development of a fixed anchor application and review process, and organization of trash cleanups and major trailbuilding efforts. In addition, the WMCC has kept the climbing community informed about important conservation issues through the organization’s website and newsletter.
In 2001, the WMCC and the Access Fund joined forces to purchase Baldy Point (Quartz), one of the region’s most valuable climbing areas. The property was immediately donated to the State of Oklahoma as an addition to Quartz Mountain State Park. As a result of the new park status, the WMCC expanded it’s mission in 2001 to include protecting Baldy Point’s climbing and natural resources, and to providing assistance to Quartz Mountain State Park in managing climbing activity and any associated impacts at Quartz.
As a result of the outstanding efforts of our members, and thanks to the support of the climbing community, the Access Fund, and other volunteers and contributors, the WMCC continues to insure that the climbing resources and natural environment of the Wichita Mountains are protected.