Video by Elli Levene.

Rock climbing is an ideal outdoor recreational activity: it brings people together, allows you to explore remote locations and helps you fall in love with the outdoors. This great physical activity requires little equipment and challenges you to achieve your maximum potential. But like most outdoor recreational sports, rock climbing has impacts on the environment, ranging from leaving chalk on a rock to creating new trails.

“All outdoor recreational groups have impacts to the environment, and they cannot be ignored,” says Garrett Hutson, an associate professor of recreation and leisure at Brock University. Garrett supervised a study conducted by Jay Thompson that explores what rock climbers think about sustainability. After interviewing, observing and analyzing historical documents regarding climbers, their research came down to the topic of “impacts.” Impacts were discussed collaboratively amongst climbers and landowners.

Garrett explains that many climbers do not realize they are making an impact. And through collaborating with rock climbers, park managers have come to realize that not all impacts are bad. If outdoor recreation creates a trail, brings people together, and encourages a positive and physical activity that helps connect people to nature, the positive outcomes of the activity could reframe a recreation impact as an acceptable environmental change. What an acceptable environmental change looks like needs to be agreed upon between protected area managers and outdoor recreationists.

Organizations such as Leave No Trace help reduce environmental impacts caused by recreational activities. Leave No Trace is a non-for-profit organization that teaches people how to leave nature unchanged while participating in outdoor recreational activities. They advocate for seven principles: plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife and be considerate of other visitors.

These seven principles can help outdoor adventurers to properly manage a trip for any outdoor recreational activity in order to minimize their environmental impact. Following these principles will help you leave the area in a better condition than you found it, so future generations can use the land. Leave No Trace is strongly committed to conservation, utilizing resources mindfully so they are not being impacted in a negative way.

Leave No Trace and similar practices have been implemented for climbing areas such as The Glen, near Niagara Falls, and Halfway Log Dump on the Bruce Peninsula. Non-profit organization Ontario Access Coalition came to an agreement with the Niagara Parks Commission and Bruce Peninsula National Park to permit rock climbing. When climbing at The Glen, a yearly permit must be purchased, which helps maintain the park. Staff also advise the Leave No Trace principles and remind climbers to be mindful of the land. For Halfway Log Dump, Ontario Access Coalition created a free interpreted climbing guide that explains where climbers can and cannot climb, how to treat the land respectfully, and endangered species to avoid that are in the area.  

As a result of collaborating with landowners in this way, climbers are becoming more aware of their impacts and are reducing their trace by not climbing on the tops of boulders where fragile vegetation is found, brushing off chalk left behind on rocks, staying on sanctioned trails and not creating new trails and keeping a low profile by traveling in small groups.

Since climbers spend lots of time in these parks, they are familiar with the land and regulations. Climbers recognize the importance of park conservation and therefore teach their knowledge to park visitors by explaining how to conserve the land, which overall helps preserve the park.

Rock climbing is a great example of an outdoor recreational sport that allows people to get outside to locations they might not normally travel to, fall in love with the outdoors, and ultimately, when done right, help sustain the land. I encourage everyone to find an activity that you can perform in the outdoors, and explore this activity in new locations. Fall in love with the land and learn how you can turn your use of the it into a positive. Finally, figure out what makes this activity special to you and then share it with others, because nature should be celebrated and enjoyed together.

More information on Leave No Trace can be found at or


Elli is a part of Fleming College’s 2014 Environmental Visual Communications program, taught at the ROM in downtown Toronto and holds an Honours Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science and Resources from Trent University. He values time spent with family, friends and nature and seeks to inspire his viewers in understanding the importance of community.


If you liked this article, please subscribe or donate today to support our work.

A\J moderates comments to maintain a respectful and thoughtful discussion.
Comments may be considered for publication in the magazine.