National conservation group in town to assist locals with Moe’s Valley stewardship project

Previous maintenance and competition events at Moe's Valley, St. George, Utah | Photo by Anna Cranmer, flickr, @ancran on instagram, courtesy of Tyler Webb, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — This Saturday, a beloved climbing area on the western fringe of the Bloomington/St. George suburbs will get a facelift. The climbing area, Moe’s Valley, will welcome The foremost national climbing advocacy group, the Access Fund, for a conservation project. This project is aimed at decreasing erosion that has been occurring around one of Moe’s popular boulder clusters, referred to as the “Monkey Boy” boulders.

The Access Fund’s Stewardship Program is a travelling conservation team that plans and executes conservation projects at popular climbing areas across the U.S. The Access Fund will be joined by local climbers, many of which are involved with a local climbing advocacy and conservation group, The Southern Utah Climbing Alliance.

The Access Fund has a long history of helping local climbing organizations with local conservations projects throughout the years, Tyler Webb, SUCA member, and organizer of this project said. Webb, with help from Seth Giles, co-wrote the guidebook to bouldering at Moe’s Valley and has been involved with planning and organizing a handful of maintenance, and conservation events around Southern Utah.

“Since Seth and I wrote the guidebook, I’m partially responsible for the increased traffic in Moe’s Valley,” Webb said. “So, I want to be responsible for reducing the impact as much as I can.”

Webb’s guidebook describes many of the bouldering routes throughout the small valley of boulders that is Moe’s Valley. Moes is full of hundreds of house sized boulders that are ideal for climbing on. This collection of boulders appeals to climbers who are looking for many bouldering routes in one small area. This has made Moe’s a magnet for locals as well as national level climbers to practice the sport of bouldering in one relatively easily accessible valley. Although Moe’s is prominently a bouldering spot, it has well maintained trails and breathtaking views of St. George and Zion to the east. This has helped turn Moe’s in to a popular mountain biking and hiking area as well.

What is bouldering?

Bouldering is a sub-category of rock climbing, where the participants climb routes on short boulders, typically no more than 15 feet high. The boulderers then climb back down, or jump off the short boulders, using a large foam pad at the base to soften their landing. Bouldering is a sport in it’s own right but is also commonly a “practice” of sorts for rock climbers to improve their technique in order to climb bigger cliffs with a rope.

Moe’s is a bouldering hotspot and is often associated with a bouldering circuit across the Western U.S. This circuit is comprised of a handful of the best bouldering areas in the region. Climbers tend to tour these hotspots year after year, Ty Taylor, Stewardship Director of the Access Fund said. “Folks from the Salt Lake City area and other areas come up here,” Tyler said. “It’s one of those regional destination bouldering areas.”

Two of the most popular bouldering spots in the West, along this circuit are Bishop, California and Joe’s Valley, near Orangeville, Utah.

Details of the project

The landing zones at these bouldering areas often see a lot of traffic which can cause erosion. One particular landing zone in Moe’s Valley, below the Monkey Boy boulder cluster, has become the focus of this weekend’s conservation project, Tyler said.

The Monkey Boy area has developed an abrupt downward sloping trough, midway through the landing spot. This has created a safety hazard for boulderers. This dip in the landing spot has been receding for a few years now from high traffic in this area, Webb said. Climbers often stumble down this sharp slope, since its located right in the middle of the landing zone. This erosion has not only become a safety hazard but is also creating ecological damage, Webb said.

The Access Fund team with major support from Webb and a group of local climbers will be building a retaining wall and a landing zone below the Monkey Boy boulders using natural large rocks and dirt from the area. They will also be doing trail work by rearranging the trail system to minimize future erosion and also make this area safer for visitors. Members of the Access Fund’s stewardship program visited Moe’s roughly a month ago and highlighted these areas as needing attention. The Access Fund has returned this weekend to assist with maintenance work to prevent future erosion.

Local climbing community’s conservation efforts

The Access Fund and local climbers related to SUCA commonly build retaining walls around landing zones as a conservation technique. Besides building retaining walls, these non-profit organizations often work on the trails that lead to the climbing areas by closing social trails (commonly called “spider networks”), building rock staircases, delineating trails, and even constructing new trails all together.

In order for us to have the places remain open for a long period of time we have to have sustainable areas,” Tyler said. Part of the reason the Access Fund has worked with Webb and other local climbers for years on various maintenance projects and cleanups is to keep good partnerships with lands managing agencies. “Land managers are not fans of heavy erosion, heavy plant degradation, water quality issues, things like that,” Tyler said.  Luckily, members of the local climbing community have historically taken the initiative to reduce future impacts as these areas get more popular, Webb said.

Climbers and land managers 

For the past few decades, the St. George area climbing community has worked tirelessly to respect and take care of the land around their climbing spots, Webb said. Volunteer cleanup events have had surprisingly large turnouts and land management agencies have been receptive to respectful pleas to keep various climbing areas like Black Rocks and Moe’s Valley open. In the last five years alone, Tyler estimates that the climbing community has put on close to 10 clean-up and maintenance projects that have had large numbers of volunteers show up. They also continuously have meetings  to discuss various local climbing issues and events to bring the climbing community together.

The land managing agency currently in charge of Moe’s Valley is the State of Utah Schools and Institutional Trust Lands – SITLA – an agency which manages many plots of land in Southern Utah. Webb said he has developed a great relationship with SITLA, and they appreciate the climbing communities efforts to maintain Moe’s Valley.

Currently homes are encroaching closer to the Moe’s Valley area, however Moe’s in particular seems like it will remain undeveloped. There is a development boundary line — a north-south trending dirt road with a row of power lines next to Moe’s Valley. The Moe’s Valley area, west of the dirt road has been designate as open space zoning by SITLA, Webb said. This means the land can be developed up to that point, but Moe’s Valley itself will remain unimproved with no commercial leasing, as the designation stands now.

Responsible land use

“(Moe’s) gets a lot of impact, a lot of traffic, especially during the winter months,” Tyler said. Webb has also seen a major spike in the traffic Moe’s has been receiving the last five years. In order to combat the impact that naturally occurs in a heavy use area, Webb has a few suggestions for those who enjoy Moe’s Valley:

First, keep all fires in already existing pits. Moe’s has had a history of people starting fire pits all over the place which causes damage to the fragile ecosystem.

Second, Webb said to stay on already established trails. The main reason to stay on trails is to prevent erosion and ecosystem degradation. Micro-ecosystems, often called crypto-biotic or crypto-gamic soils flourish in this area, but when people step off of the trails, these micro-ecosystems get crushed, which leaves the whole area much more susceptible to erosion, Webb said. When these ecosystems are crushed, the native plants die because they get much of their nutrients from the micro-ecosystems. As micro-ecosystems get destroyed, the area becomes more susceptible to invasive plant species, fires, and also dust pollution.

Webb’s last suggestion is to refrain from climbing on the boulders for  at least 48 hours after any rain storm. Because the sandstone  bonds are significantly weaker when it’s wet, the rock becomes much more fragile, Webb said. Climbing the first two days after a rainstorm is much more dangerous because the rock is unstable. Staying off the boulders after rain will greatly help to slow down erosion and will conserve the features of the rocks that make them so ideal for climbing.

Webb invites those who commonly enjoy Moe’s to come out and help this Saturday if they feel inclined. The conservation group will be working on trails and landing zones Saturday starting at 9 a.m., through Sunday until the project is done. Although the project doesn’t need tons of volunteers, Webb suggests if you do come to the project, bring close-toed shoes and work gloves. If the group can’t put you to work, Webb said, feel free to come out and enjoy Moe’s Valley’s boulders.

Besides this project, SUCA will also be putting on their annual spring maintenance project next February which will also includes a bouldering competition.

Details and more Information

  • Location: Moe’s Valley Bouldering Area, a couple miles directly west of Tonaquint Intermediate School on Curly Hollow Road which turns in to a fairly rough dirt road leading to Moe’s.
  • Time: Saturday, Nov. 15, starting at 9 a.m,. and continuing through Sunday until the project is complete.
  • For more details see the event post.

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