NOVEMBER 5, 2020
The Monongahela National Forest is developing a Climbing Management Plan for the Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area. The Forest Service is solicitating input and running a series of public workshops to better understand the needs and impact of various recreational activities in the area.
The Spurce Knob-Seneca Rocks area is home to a great deal of local climbing areas. These include Seneca, one of the premiere trad climbing destinations of the Mid Atlantic area and a significant location to the development of climbing as a sport in the U.S.; Smoke Hole Canyon, a well developed and increasingly popular sport and trad area; and numerous other climbing destinations.
PATC-MS is helping to compile and present a clearer picture of climbers’ relationship with the area. To that end, PATC-MS is working with multiple climbing groups active in the area as well as the Forest Service to circulate survey(s) and put together drafts of potential policy proposals for the Climbing Management Plan.
Anyone may contact these groups directly through email: MonongahelaCMP@gmail.com . Anyone with any interest is encouraged to participate!
Additionally, anyone can submit thoughts and comments directly to the Forest Service. Additional information about the workshops regarding the Climbing Management Plan can be found on the Forest Service’s webpage: https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/mnf/landmanagement/planning/?cid=FSEPRD733961
FEBRUARY 2021 UPDATE
Four initial – virtual – meetings on the Monongahela Climbing Management Plan (CMP) were organized by the Forest Service and were held in August 2020. The Forest Service website contains details of the meetings and a summary of what was discussed at each meeting. These links can be found at
Since the initial meetings, PMC members have been working with other climbing groups including the Access Fund, the American Alpine Club, Friends of Smoke Hole, Mid Atlantic Climbers, Friends of Seneca and several local Facebook groups. This is through an informal coalition of members from these groups which can be reached at MonongahelaCMP@gmail.com
In addition to internal discussions, members of this coalition have participated in several phone calls with the Forest Service to clarify the timetable for the CMP and also to establish how we can assist the Forest Service and the climbing community in the process of preparing a CMP for the Monongahela Forest.
As a result of these discussions, a recent email from Alex Schuleter at the Forest Service indicated:
“We have decided to push back the second series of workshops. As you may recall from the first series of workshops, my intention is to have a draft CMP complete by summer 2022. I was hoping to finish it earlier, but this timeline still provides flexibility and fits well with the order of entry planning process. In the meantime, I know there are active conversations amongst the climbing community as to what folks would like to see from a CMP. I’m encouraged by these conversations and am looking forward to hearing more thoughts! As always, comments can be submitted anytime now or later in the process to ClimbingMP@usda.gov.”
So what are we planning to do? Basically, our activities in the next few months – ie before the next round of Forest Service meetings – will concentrate on informing the climbing population who climb at Seneca or the Smoke Hole. We will be encouraging their participation through the following:
Preparing and distributing via the PMC website a summary of the issues and concerns that may need to be addressed in a CMP. We expect this to be ready within the next two months
This may be followed by a survey of the climbing population to research the views of the climbing community in various issues relevant to the CMP
We will be continuing to contact climbing groups that climb at Seneca or in the Smoke Hole and are likely to be interested in participating in the CMP process
We will be encouraging climbing groups and individuals to participate in the CMP process, either through the Forest Service workshops or submissions to ClimbingMP@usda.gov
We expect that our principal focus will be on Seneca, although we will also indicate where we think there are similar issues with other areas such as the Smoke Hole.
Smoke Hole Climbing
It’s important to realize that there are a group of local climbers and new route developers that are very active in the Smoke Hole. Their activities are loosely reported on their Facebook page-
There are several climbers associated with the Smoke Hole who are part of our CMP coalition. Recently, Friends of Smoke Hole released a suggested CMP for the Smoke Hole. This included the results of a survey of climbers regarding Smoke Hole climbing issues, and can be found here:
This suggested CMP – note this was produced independently of our coalition activities – is mostly well thought out and details accurately the issues that affect Smoke Hole climbing. Many of these concerns are, or will be, relevant for Seneca and other areas in the Monongahela Forest.
Although the official ‘final’ CMP will be necessarily written by the Forest Service, taking into account climber submissions, this document from Friends of Smoke Hole is well worth reading. Considerable effort that has gone into suggesting solutions to known and increasing problems with regard to trails, parking, bolting and human waste.
Some of the proposed solutions – for example those involving Events, Section IV – may not be feasible within the legal and administrative framework that applies to Forest Service land such as the Monongahela.
Note that linking to this document does not imply acceptance of all suggestions in the document; linking has been done to help the local climbing community appreciate the issues of climbing in the Smoke Hole, and in particular the concerns of the local climbers.
We expect that the list of issues for Seneca, currently in preparation, will be similar. We are not intending to draft a proposed CMP as such as that is the Forest Service’s responsibility.