In 2012, the former landowners decided to sell their 80-acre family farmstead, which included some of the best sandstone boulders in the Midwest. Local climbers Dave Chancellor of Climb So Ill and Leif Faber of the Illinois Climbers Association (ICA) reached out to the landowners and the Access Fund to help protect this hidden gem of the American bouldering community. To prevent an indefinite closure, Access Fund purchased the property using over $300,000 from the Climbing Conservation Loan Program, with the long-term plan of transferring the property to a non-profit organization or public agency.
After subdivision and resale of the farm lots, four years of fundraising and trail improvements, and extensive collaboration with local climbers, BETA Fund, and ICA, Access Fund transferred the 46-acre bouldering area to ICA for long-term ownership and management in 2016. Access Fund holds a permanent conservation and recreation easement to back up ICA’s long-term commitment, ensuring continued conservation and climbing access at the Holy Boulders into perpetuity. BETA Fund manages the medical kit and serves as the conservation easement land steward.
The Holy Boulders have attracted professional climbers and strong athletes from around the country. The area features over 200 developed problems and potential for more that climbers of all abilities can enjoy. The Holy Boulders were originally part of an 80-acre tract of farm and forestland that the Tripp family had owned for over 47 years. In 2004, local climber Aaron Brouwer discovered the Holy Boulders from aerial photographs and introduced himself to the landowner. After initial concerns of liability, the family gave climbers verbal permission to climb at the boulders. For eight years climbers maintained a positive relationship with the Tripp Family, offering small tokens of appreciation and keeping information word-of-mouth so as not to jeopardize access. In May of 2012 climbers spotted For Sale signs on the property and learned that the landowners were planning to sell the property.
The Holy Boulders are in Jackson County, Southern Illinois. It is 30 minutes southwest of Carbondale; 2.5 from St. Louis; 2.5 from Evansville; 3.5 from Nashville; and 5.5 hours from Chicago. It is nestled on the western slopes of Shawnee National Forest on both public and private land. The boulders and cliff line sit on forested slopes just east of the Big Muddy River and its confluence with the Mississippi River.
Driving and hiking directions: There are two parking areas off Macedonia Road to the west of the property. Click here for driving directions to the trailhead. From the northern end directly across from FS Road 2078, spot a hiking trail just before a road cut to the powerline easement. Follow this path in the trees along a small stream before crossing the powerline cut. After 15 minutes (2/3 mile), you cross into ICA property and come to a small kiosk at the Mollusk boulder. Please remember that parking and the initial approach are on Shawnee National Forest - please leave no trace and do not improve the trail.
Photos by Phillip Carrier and Abbey Smith