CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An avid rock climbing enthusiast says studies show West Virginia is in a great position to benefit from a surge in the popularity of rock climbing.

Dr. James Maples, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University, told lawmakers Tuesday during an interim committee meeting the New River Gorge is a major destination for rock climbing enthusiasts already. Maples told lawmakers they didn’t need to advertise to climbers to convince them to come, he noted they already know about West Virginia.

But Maple’s fear was making sure the places they love stay intact.

“We have to protect these areas,” Maples said. “Right now we see a time in which public lands are at risk. We have to step up and protect them. We have to make sure they are here for future generations.”

Rock climbing is considered a “trail sport,” which encompass a number of activities including hiking and biking and are the top outdoor activities in terms when it comes to spending.

According to Maples, the activity is an economic generator for a place like West Virginia.

“Outdoors recreation economies create jobs for everyone,” he explained. “It’s not creating jobs for computer scientists, but it’s creating jobs that anyone can fill, which is important.”

However, threats to the activities are the top obstacle in Maple’s mind. He said a proposed ban on all rock climbing on National Forests in the United States threatened the loss of potentially $10 billion in spending in the coming years across the United States.

“It’s a renewable resource,” he said. “We don’t have to spend a ton of money to make it happen. We have to make sure the areas don’t go away and aren’t developed.”