Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2019

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Dale Miller

Second Advisor

Philip White

Third Advisor

Lon Abbott


Since the 1960s, rock climbing has become an increasingly important player in America’s recreation landscape. Today, rock climbing is a growing contributor to the nation’s $800+ billion-dollar outdoor recreation industry, and indoor and outdoor climbing are more popular than ever. Historically, rock climbers and other outdoor recreationalists have claimed a correlation between recreation and conservation of public lands. Ample evidence suggests, however, that rock climbing still causes an array of negative impacts to ecosystems. This is the first known study to analyze potential impacts of recreational outdoor rock climbing on a large scale with GIS techniques, overlaying geographic data of outdoor climbing areas in Colorado with government landcover data for the state from 1970 and 2011 as well as public land ownership and designation data. Based on this analysis, around two-thirds of outdoor rock climbs in Colorado are located in evergreen forests or shrub / scrub land as defined by the US Geological Survey. Many historically forested areas frequented by climbers have experienced changes in landcover, converted into developed areas and shrub / scrub land since 1970. Additionally, 89% of climbing areas in Colorado are located on land with preexisting environmental protections: 68% federally regulated, 6% state regulated, and 15% city or county regulated. Using landcover and land use change data, I then propose specific management strategies to be implemented by small-scale local climbing organizations working collaboratively with larger governments to address environmental concerns identified through GIS analysis.