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A Higher Purpose for Joshua Tree Climbers: Adopt-a-Crag

September 19, 2002|SANDY MASUO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

They come to Joshua Tree National Park to climb the raw faces of such famous boulders as Headstone and Intersection rocks, cliff-clinging nature lovers who find the stone there-- exposed and unspoiled faces of quartz monzonite--a climber's dream of accessible but technical routes.

However, the surrounding desert ecosystem is not as tough as rock.

The stark, arid conditions that make Joshua Tree seem an unchangeable landscape of cartoonish dwarf trees and needle-sharp cholla cactus also mean that man-made trails, campsites and trash can last for decades.

Now a nationwide network of rock climbers has set aside a day to erase some of their tracks.

"If you care about this climbing area and want to see it taken care of, don't just use it. Give something back," says Paul Blanchard, a veteran rock climber and co-manager of the Uprising Rock Climbing Center in Palm Springs. When Access Fund, a national organization dedicated to climbing and conservation, launched its Adopt-a-Crag Day campaign three years ago, Blanchard didn't think twice about lending a hand. In addition to his work at Uprising, he also serves as a board member for Friends of Joshua Tree, the nonprofit advocacy group for which he organizes the park's annual Adopt-a-Crag event.

On Saturday, he'll lead a team of volunteers on a daylong conservation adventure. From 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., his posse will help restore the popular climbing areas near Hidden Valley, Belle and White Tank campgrounds by collecting trash, cleaning up chalk marks some climbers use to map out routes across the rock face, replanting native flora in the random paths (called "social paths") that have appeared, and marking main trails to discourage wandering.

After the cleanup, volunteers are free to spend the rest of the afternoon on the rocks and to hang out for an evening slide show and raffle. The $10 suggested donation benefits Friends of Joshua Tree, and donors receive the quarterly newsletter, Wonderland, and membership in Friends of Joshua Tree. Raffle prizes range from climbing gear to Clif Bars ($25 donors also receive a box lunch).

The official Adopt-a-Crag Day is Sept. 7, but local groups around the country schedule volunteer and fund-raising activities from August through November. Blanchard is pleased that these grass-roots organizations now work with--rather than against--the National Park Service.

"None of the issues we'll be working on on the 21st is so pressing that the park will fall apart without us," Blanchard says, chuckling. "We're working on projects related to climber access and keeping our good relationship going with the National Park Service. Now they come to us and say, 'Hey, this is happening in this area and we need to get word out that people need to stop doing that.' So we put the word out [through the newsletter and Web site] and volunteer time. We have an open dialogue, which is great."

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Adopt-a-Crag Day volunteers will meet at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at Nomad Ventures Store, corner of Route 62 and Park Boulevard in the town of Joshua Tree. For more information, contact: Friends of Joshua Tree, (760) 366-9699, www.friendsofjosh.org; Uprising Rock Climbing Center, (760) 320-6630, www.uprising.com; the Access Fund, (303) 545-6772, www.accessfund.org.

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