WCCC or Western Colorado Climbers Coalition is a non-profit organization that was created to represent climbers throughout Western Colorado. Not only does WCCC create mutual meeting grounds for climbers, but in recent efforts, they’ve been working to protect land areas from private investors to ensure that climbers will be able to enjoy these areas for years to come. WCCC has been working to buy the property in the amazing granite valley of Unaweep Canyon. Unaweep Canyon is a melting pot of granite and sandstone crags that provide unlimited potential for new climbs. The importance of this issue boils down to the fact that if the property were sold to a private person, climbers would be prohibited from enjoying this natural wonder.
Carolyn Dean: What is WCCC and what is its mission?
Garrett Mitchell: The Western Colorado Climbers’ Coalition is a nonprofit 501c(3) representing the Grand Valley climbing and is dedicated to preserving access to Western Colorado’s climbing areas through land stewardship, education, and land use advocacy.
CD: How was WCCC established?
GM: In 2008 one of our local crags in Unaweep Canyon was being sold. The Access Fund approached our community, instilling the need for local representation of climbers. With their guidance and help we started the processes towards becoming nonprofit and attempting to purchase the threatened crag. By the next year we had gained approval to be nonprofit and were under contract to secure the climbing and plan a better trail and parking area.
CD: How did WCCC first get involved in preserving Unaweep Canyon & what security has this given for western Colorado climbers?
GM: In 2009 we were able to secure an endangered piece of land that was slated to be sold off. We then subdivide enough land that would include the cliff, trail, and parking lot. This land is now protected in perpetuity. Even if the WCCC were to dissolve, we have made adequate precautions to ensure that the land will continue to be in the peoples’ hands.
CD: What are some of the activities that WCCC has preformed in Unaweep Canyon?
GM: We have worked with both private and public land owners/managers to negotiate access. This can include the purchase and/or easement of cliffs. We have created a suitable parking lot for areas to lessen congestion along the highway through the canyon. We have multiple trail days throughout the year that amass the community and take care of the land that we use regularly. With the help of the ASCA (American Safe Climbing Association) we have replaced hundreds of deteriorated bolts and anchors throughout the canyon with stainless steel hardware that will last a very long time. We have been the conduit between land managers and climbers to create a professional and positive relationship that has allowed and continued access.
CD: How was WCCC able to purchase Mother Buttress?
GM: We were fortunate enough to facilitate the purchase of the land to a sympathetic party, the Petersons from Gunnison, CO; they then agreed to subdivide a large chunk of it for purchase. We were able to raise enough money to purchase the subdivided land. Much of the funds raised came from the community and the Access Fund. Organizations such as NOLS and Outward Bound also helped out with donations.
CD: What is the Access Fund and why importance does it have to WCCC?
GM: From the Access Fund’s website, “The Access Fund is the national advocacy organization that keeps U.S. climbing areas open and conserves the climbing environment. Founded in 1991, the Access Fund supports and represents over 2.3 million climbers nationwide in all forms of climbing: rock, ice, mountaineering, and bouldering.” Unaweep holds a special place in the Access Fund’s history. The already preserved Sunday Wall area within the canyon was the first purchase ever made by the organization in early ‘90’s. It was through their monumental help that we were able to purchase the Mothers’ Buttresses. We continue working with them constantly on on-going projects in the area trying to procure more land and secure access.
CD: Who are board members of the WCCC and what was their significance in creating the Coalition?
GM: The WCCC has a board of 7: Rob Pizem, Matt Lisenby, Randall Chapman, Mark Kenney, Garrett Mitchell, Eve Tallman, and Jesse Zacher. They meet regularly to work on many projects throughout the Grand Valley. They all have given much of their time to help keep the WCCC in action.
CD: WCCC is a nonprofit organization what does that mean to WCCC and how does it create advantages and disadvantages?
GM: Being a nonprofit we are able to afford land holdings and channel donations towards our cause appropriately. We are held to federal standards that are respected by many institutions and organizations. Being a 501c(3) adds legitimacy to our efforts and allows us to act more effectively as stewards for the land on which we recreate.
CD: Are there any upcoming projects for the WCCC?
GM: We are currently in the midst of trying to figure out our options for trying to secure yet another large chunk of Unaweep that is up for sale. Currently three walls: Television, Lower Mothers, and Cave Buttress are under threat of being sold off. These walls are closed to all climbing by the owner until it has been sold. The amount of money for the property is much too high for us to purchase alone. We are looking for a third party to help us by filling the same role as the Petersons in our last land purchase. We are spreading the word to anyone who is interested in purchasing property in Unaweep. We have the ability to create and pay for the subdivision of the cliff once it has been purchased. We then could the cliff line from possible buyer. We already have a trail system and parking lot to support this area. There could be beneficial tax deductions through this process. If we are not able influence the purchase of this land, the fate of access lays in the uncertain hands of the future unknown purchaser.