Date of Award


Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Forest Resources


John Daigle

Second Committee Member

Jessica Leahy

Third Committee Member

Mary Madden


Rock climbing is a popular recreational sport and in recent years the number of people climbing has grown nationally. Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in Maine was no exception to this trend and in 1997 the Park Service established its first climbing management plan for the park. This plan put into place group size limits at Otter Cliffs, the park's most popular climbing site, and also established a policy for new routes and bolting placement. After 14 years, the plan remains unchanged and park staff is concerned with crowding issues and increasing climber impacts which in turn may be negatively affecting the climbing experience. In order to gage climbers' experiences and find any issues with climbing management currently, a semi-structured interview was developed and administered to a carefully stratified purposive sample. This included commercial guides, former guides, and recreational climbers who all had been climbing in Acadia regularly over a period ranging from 10 to 35 years. Our interview questions were developed in the spring of 2009 using input from park staff as well as two local guides. We asked questions based on social, managerial, and resource aspects of experience. These included questions about opinions of park management such as commercial group sizes, changes in the climbing experience over the years, and opinions of "Leave no Trace". Data was collected between July 2009 and October 2010. The interviews were then transcribed and coded using QSR NVivo version 2.0 and during analysis, participants' identities were kept off the record. Experiences are being affected by some level of crowding at Otter Cliffs but in other areas of the park it is not an issue. Climbers' main complaints involved occasional tensions between guides and recreational climbers, feeling overwhelmed by the numbers of people at Otter Cliffs during busy weekends, and recreational climbers sometimes being unfamiliar with their equipment or the area causing stress to guides. Overall, eight out of the nine participants felt there was some level of crowding at Otter Cliffs. However, when asked about other options, seven out of the nine participants felt there were always other places to climb when Otter Cliffs became busy. Climbers had a variety of opinions on group sizes with eight out of the nine participants finding the size limits were appropriate. These climbers felt that smaller groups are more manageable and that due to the size of Otter Cliffs, a larger group would take up too much space. As far as observed impacts, four out of the nine participants had not noticed any environmental changes since they began climbing in Acadia. However, four did notice several changes at climbing sites. All our participants said they were familiar with LNT and all of them said they practiced LNT in some form or another. This included carrying out trash, using durable surfaces, and educating clients about LNT while guiding. Based on the results of this study, future research considerations and suggestions for management are included based on climbers' answers. Focus is on improving experience though various forms of distributing information on rock climbing in general and making climbers more aware of the "Leave no Trace" principles. Climbers' suggestions include more collaboration between park staff and local climbers, more signage to better educate climbers unfamiliar with the area, re-evaluation of bolting policy, and installation of more fixed protection. Our own suggestions include continuing current management practices and placing small reminders of LNT in climbing areas. Further research into crowding at Otter Cliffs should be considered and information on alternative climbing areas such as South Wall should be passed onto visiting climbers. Other research suggestions include more specific questions on experience and crowding.