- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

SLADE, Ky. (AP) - Rock climbers hope a new study of their economic impact in the Red River Gorge will help make the case for opening more public land in the area for climbing.

Researchers from Eastern Kentucky University surveyed more than 700 climbers at crags on public and private land in 2015 to come up with the data, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader (https://bit.ly/1RwtmOB).

The study found that climbers spend an estimated $3.6 million annually in six counties around the Red River Gorge. Much of that was for lodging, food, retail purchases and recreation activities.

The researchers estimated that 7,500 climbers visit the Red River Gorge annually. The gorge has become so popular that people have to wait at times to get on some routes, said Rick Bost, a member of the Red River Gorge Climber’s Coalition.

There have been discussions about greater access to crags on public land in the gorge. Climbers hope the study will re-energize those talks. According to the study, opening more cliffs in the gorge would likely bring in more climbers and increase the economic benefit of the sport to the area economy.

“If we want to attract more climbers, we need more space for them to climb,” said James N. Maples, a sociology professor at Eastern Kentucky University and lead researcher on the study.

There are many factors to consider in increasing the number of places open for rock climbing in the gorge, including the availability of parking at trailheads, the cost of building and maintaining trails, and the potential effect of visitation on historic and cultural resources - such as spots with native artifacts - and on the environment.

Jon Kazmierski, district ranger for a section of Daniel Boone National Forest, has asked climbers to identify possible places to open new climbing routes so the Forest Service can analyze them.

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Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, https://www.kentucky.com

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