09/28/2022

Climbers Permanently Protect Privately Owned Michigan Crag

Generous Donation Makes Slugg’s Bluff the First Climber-Owned Climbing Area in Michigan

The Upper Peninsula Climbers Coalition (UPCC) is thrilled to announce permanent protections for Slugg’s Bluff. UPCC is one of 140 local climbing organizations around the country supported by Access Fund, the nation’s largest climbing advocacy organization. This undeveloped 10-acre landscape is home to an 80-foot tall quartzite cliff line that hosts 10 sport routes and more than a dozen gear-protected lines from 5.5 to 5.12, with potential for more routes in both styles. Located near the small mining town of Palmer, Michigan, the area showcases views of the surrounding landscape. It is open for other forms of recreation.

“As the first climber-owned crag in Michigan, Slugg’s Bluff is a testament to the value our community places on conserving open space for future generations,” says UPCC President John Miller.

Slugg's Bluff at sunset. Ancestral lands of Oma͞eqnomenew-ahkew (Menominee), Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ, and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ. © Sam Elias.

Slugg’s Bluff is named for Leo ‘Slug’ Arbelius, who owned the property with his wife, Alice. Leo and Alice raised their family in Palmer, operated the local grocery store, and used Slugg’s Bluff to graze their cows.

The Arbelius family with UPCC Vice President Kelly Laakso. © John Miller.

In 2022, leaders from the UPCC approached the Arbelius family to gauge their interest in selling Slugg’s Bluff. The owners—in an act of unparalleled generosity—chose to donate Slugg’s Bluff to the UPCC and the local climbing community. In the Arbelius family’s honor, the UPCC will preserve this area for sustainable outdoor recreation and build a trailhead kiosk celebrating this gift.

“We’re proud to permanently showcase the Arbelius family’s record of generosity at Slugg’s Bluff,” says Miller. “Their long-standing support for climbers as private landowners helped build this community. Now that Slugg’s Bluff is in climbers’ hands, we know that the community will continue to grow.”

Climbing at Slugg’s Bluff dates back to the 1970s, and climbers have a long history of working to preserve the area. In recent years, UPCC and Northern Michigan University’s South Superior Climbing Club organized multiple cleanups to remove trash and graffiti from the property.

“There are so many ways for private landowners to support conservation and recreation, and we’re thrilled that the Arbelius family worked with the Upper Peninsula Climbers Coalition to make this incredible gift,” says Access Fund National Acquisitions Director Brian Tickle. “The family’s donation does more than create Michigan’s first climber-owned crag. It’s a model for other landowners to protect and conserve privately owned land beyond their lifetimes.”

Supporting local climbers is among Access Fund's most important work as a national climbing advocacy organization. We were proud to provide the guidance to UPCC throughout this acquisitions process, as well as providing grants, funding, and other organizational support over the years.

Access to Slugg's Bluff. Ancestral lands of Oma͞eqnomenew-ahkew (Menominee), Anishinabewaki ᐊᓂᔑᓈᐯᐗᑭ, and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ. © John Miller

Access Details and How to Support

Preserving, maintaining, and managing a 10-acre climbing area is not easy or cheap, which makes climbers’ support critical. Please consider joining UPCC during upcoming volunteer days or making a donation at upperpeninsulaclimbing.com/donate.