Updated: Jun 19, 2020
The board of the Western Montana Climbers Coalition would like to address a concern several people have expressed about the board’s transparency regarding actions taken to work with the new Kootenai landowners and access to Kootenai climbing. You'll find a timeline below that details what was done. Feel free to ask more questions at firstname.lastname@example.org, or talk to a board member in person. We’re sorry if any of you felt like you were in the dark, but negotiations are confidential, and the Access Fund asked us to keep those discussions private until we reached an agreement on a Climbing Management Plan (CMP) for Kootenai. As most of you know, the landowners ultimately did not sign an agreement on the recommendation of their attorney.
WMTCC remains committed to climbing access for all on both public and private lands, but also respects the rights and wishes of private landowners. Since the purchase of Kootenai last October, WMTCC's main concern and efforts have been focused on keeping Kootenai open to the public and maintaining a positive relationship with the landowners. Recently, however, the owners decided to create a permit system to regulate climbing. They also asked WMTCC to step aside from the informal roles the coalition had played in the canyon. The permit system doesn’t align with WMTCC’s values and mission, but we do encourage climbers to abide by the Kootenai rules and the permit system.
The WMTCC will be busy with plenty of other projects, including working with other private landowners and public land managers to keep Bitterroot and other western Montana crags accessible, safe, and open to all. We’re already involved with the U.S. Forest Service, which is working on revising the nation’s forest plans. Those plans will affect the future of climbing on public land, and it’s critical for our voices to be heard.
A final word on Kootenai. The WMTCC now has nothing to do with climbing in the canyon. We do urge climbers to follow the rules and familiarize themselves with the permit system. If you have questions about Kootenai, please inquire with the landowners. If you have questions about anything else regarding climbing, feel free to get in touch with us by email or on our Facebook page.
Here’s the timeline outlining our role in the Kootenai situation:
October 2018 - The WMTCC was made aware that a major portion of the Kootenai climbing area has been purchased by a local couple well known in the climbing community. Due to liability concerns, the new owners immediately closed the climbing area. The landowners sought WMTCC's assistance in posting on social media regarding the new ownership situation; WMTCC recommended the landowners handle that on their own. WMTCC asked that climbers please respect the closure while the liability concerns were sorted out.
November 2018 - The landowners reached out to WMTCC for assistance in managing the area due to public feedback and continued liability concerns. In a phone call with WMTCC and an Access Fund representative, a close friend/advisor to the landowners made it clear that WMTCC needed to play a more active role with the landowners.
WMTCC formed a small committee of board members to work with the landowners to find solutions for their liability concerns and to communicate with the climbing community.
WMTCC then reached out to the Access Fund to make sure the coalition could provide the best advice available. With the Access Fund's guidance, a sound approach to liability was crafted and a climbing management plan took shape. Throughout the winter, WMTCC, the Access Fund, and the landowners kept up an ongoing conversation.
February 2019 - The Access Fund flew its national access director to Missoula to see the property and negotiate alongside WMTCC with the new owners.
WMTCC agreed to purchase liability insurance that would cover the owners and also committed to paying for signage for the crag.
Both sides worked diligently and contributed to the agreement, but it was ultimately not signed after the owners' attorney stated that a formal agreement might increase the owners’ potential liability.
March 2019 - Even though WMTCC and the Access Fund could not sign an agreement with the landowners, the coalition remained involved by taking an informal role in the crag's management. WMTCC agreed to work on the necessary bolt and anchor replacement, work with the owners on trails, help communicate with the climbing community, and assist with enforcement of the climbing rules set forth by the owners.
Kootenai reopened with a post on Mountain Project that outlined the new set of rules for climbing in the canyon. That post was crafted by the owners, WMTCC, and the Access Fund. WMTCC followed up with information on both social media and a newsletter urging climbers to be good stewards of the area and to follow the new set of rules.
Summer 2019 - The climbing season was mostly uneventful, although the owners reported a few rule violations (gear being left on climbs, for instance), some minor vandalism to signs, and a belay station being ripped out. Landowners communicated these violations on Facebook and Mountain Project, and also notified the coalition.
September 2019 - WMTCC purchased $300 worth of bolts and anchors to re-equip the Outermost Limits crag at Kootenai. (That equipment will now be used elsewhere.)
October 2019 - Landowners notified the WMTCC that they wanted to set up a permit system for climbing in the canyon and that the WMTCC no longer needed to be involved in any capacity regarding climbing in the canyon or with bolt and anchor replacement.
The landowners posted on the Missoula Climbing Community page and Mountain Project regarding the new rules for applying for daily climbing permits.