by Patrick Lam, on behalf of the OAC Board
Following community consultations, the Ontario government has released the final version of the Niagara Escarpment Plan. Because much of Southern Ontario climbing occurs on the Niagara Escarpment, and because the Niagara Escarpment Commission has the power to control the use of the Escarpment (even on private land), the Plan is tremendously significant to Ontario climbers. The final version of the Plan incorporates feedback from the climbing community. Thank you for your help; together, we helped preserve access to Ontario climbing!
Impact of the new Plan
The Ontario Access Coalition does not expect immediate changes to climbing access as a result of the new Plan. As always, climbing access is tenuous and may be threatened by impacts by climbers and other visitors. Demonstrating stewardship and following Leave No Trace principles can help position climbers as a net positive for our open spaces.
More specifically, here’s what the Plan says about climbing. Rock climbing is now explicitly permitted in parks and open spaces where a climbing management plan exists. Some of our strongest partners are conservation authorities (CAs). Our understanding is that, in collaboration with the Ontario Access Coalition, CAs have developed plans for Niagara Glen, Rattlesnake Point/Buffalo Crag/Bottleglass, Mount Nemo, Kelso, and Old Baldy.
We continue to work with CAs and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to develop climbing management plans for other areas. A general principle that helps with climbing access is that the Niagara Escarpment Plan generally permits existing uses even if they are non-conforming.
The Plan contains a classification of parks and open space. The most sensitive classification is that of a Nature Reserve, to which access “will not be widely promoted [… and] activities limited to those that can further scientific understanding and education”. Many historically significant Ontario climbing areas, such as Lion’s Head, lie within Nature Reserves. Previous proposed plans explicitly disallowed climbing in Nature Reserves; we asked community input to focus on this particular aspect. The current plan does not contain a prohibition. However, climbers should be especially careful about impact in these areas, for which nature preservation is the key objective.
The Niagara Escarpment Commission has posted the plan at https://www.escarpment.org/LandPlanning/NEP.