8 Epic Climbing Conservation Wins

What do you think of when you hear the word conservation? Big, landscape-level protections? Work to save threatened plants and wildlife? Preventing open spaces from getting paved over and turned into a strip mall? What about climbing access?

Conservation is at the heart of some of the biggest climbing access fights that the climbing community has undertaken over the years. With support of local partners and climbers, Access Fund is proud to have been a part of some seriously epic conservation wins. It was hard to narrow it down, but here are eight of our favorites that showcase a range of conservation benefits.

1. Vermont’s Bolton Dome Saved from Development

Bolton Dome, Vermont. Ancestral lands of Wabanaki Confederacy and Abenaki/Abénaquis. © Michael Pronzato.

Bolton Dome, in northwest Vermont, isn’t just an excellent schist climbing area—it’s also an important cultural site for the Nulhegan Band of the Coosuk Abenaki Nation. With help from Access Fund, Climbing Resource Access Group of Vermont (CRAG-VT) purchased the land in 2018 and permanently protected it with a conservation easement two years later. CRAG-VT worked with the Abenaki to make sure the easement protects Indigenous recreational, cultural, and educational uses of the land—now and in the future.

  • Conservation Win: 46 acres saved from future development and permanently protected for climbing and Indigenous recreational, cultural, and educational uses

  • Routes Protected: 75+

2. Climbers Save Index Town Wall from Quarry Operation

Index, Washington. Ancestral lands of Tulalip and Skykomish. © Nathan Hadley.

Imagine a massive scar on the side of a mountain, the remains of a quarry operation that smashed and reduced one of the Pacific Northwest’s best climbing areas to rubble. That’s what Index Town Wall would have looked like if local climbers, with the support of Access Fund’s first Climbing Conservation Loan Program loan, hadn’t stepped up to purchase the land and permanently protect it for the benefit of all. Today, aside from the excellent granite climbing, a network of trails provides open space and incredible views of Skykomish Valley for everyone to enjoy.

  • Conservation Win: Preserved 20 acres of open space for recreation, preventing it from becoming a quarry

  • Routes Protected: 100+

3. Climbers Help Yosemite National Park Bring Peregrine Falcons Back from Brink of Extinction

Yosemite Valley, California. Ancestral lands of Southern Sierra Miwok, Northern Paiute, and Miwok. © Francois Lebeau.

By the 1970s, peregrine falcons were on the brink of extinction, decimated by the widespread use of the pesticide DDT. Once the pesticide was banned, efforts began to rehabilitate this apex predator’s population. Yosemite National Park staff called upon climbers and our technical skills to reach the peregrines’ nests and examine possible causes of nest failure. Climbers then helped execute a clever plan to put captive-bred peregrine young into nests to get young peregrines back onto the walls of El Capitan. The plan worked, and after a 16-year decline, the peregrine population began to rise. The return of the peregrine to this iconic cliff symbolizes the recovery of a species that was once nose-diving toward extinction, and it paved the way for climber-biologist collaboration on protecting peregrine nesting sites on walls around the globe.

  • Conservation Win: Restoring Yosemite’s endangered peregrine falcon population

  • Routes Protected: Hundreds worldwide

4. Climbers Buy Holy and House Boulder Fields, Expanding Crucial Wildlife Habitat

House Boulders, Illinois. Ancestral lands of ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ. © Kevin Sierzega.

The House Boulders and Holy Boulders—two adjacent but distinct sandstone boulder fields in Illinois—reside in an important wildlife corridor through which dozens of species of reptiles and amphibians migrate between lower elevation habitat and higher-elevation slopes for hibernation. The two purchases secured climbing access to hundreds of high-quality boulder problems and permanently protected land along this important hibernation highway.

  • Conservation Win: Adding 80+ additional acres to an existing wildlife corridor

  • Boulder Problems Protected: 400+

5. Climbers Help Secure Historic Open Space in Colorado

Thumb Open Space, Colorado. Ancestral lands of Arapaho, Cheyenne, Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱. © Mike Whelan.

First climbed in the 1940s by the legendary Tom Hornbein, the iconic Thumb and Needle remained on private land and closed to public access into the 2010s. The land was put up for sale in 2019 with a price tag that put it out of reach for any one community group to save, leaving the remarkable landscape and its incredible views open for a developer to purchase and keep private. But a movement including local recreation, business, conservation, and government groups coalesced around the mission to open the land to the public. The coalition was able to protect the land as a primitive, 65-acre open space park for conservation, hiking, climbing, and more.

  • Conservation Win: 65 acres of open space in an urban area protected against development

  • Routes Protected: 40+

6. Climbers Save Iconic Castleton Tower

Castleton Tower, Utah. Ancestral lands of Diné Bikéyah and Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱.

In 2000, a 224-acre tract of land at the base of Castleton Tower—including the original bivy site and trailhead access—was on the auction block. A developer was first in line to buy the property for an extensive subdivision that would have paved over a pristine desert landscape and blocked access to the iconic tower. Losing this natural habitat would have been a huge blow to the native plants and wildlife, a significant loss of open space for Utah’s citizens, and an erasure of American climbing history. Access Fund teamed up with Utah Open Lands to save Castleton Tower, providing technical expertise and a grant to assist with the purchase. Utah Open Lands acquired the property and still manages it for sustainable climbing access and conservation today.

  • Conservation Win: 224 acres of open space preserved, significant American climbing history protected

  • Routes Protected: 15, including the historic Kor-Ingalls Route

7. Climbers Save Steep Sandstone Crag and Create New Tennessee State Park

Denny Cove, Tennessee. Ancestral lands of Cherokee, Shawanwaki/Shawnee, and Yuchi. © Adam Johnson.

Before climbers bought it, Denny Cove’s 685 acres of wild, undeveloped land was owned by a timber company. In 2011, Access Fund, SCC, and other conservation organizations teamed up to purchase the land, protecting it from the inevitable fate of being harvested for its timber. SCC completed the purchase of the land and later transferred ownership to the state of Tennessee to be managed as a new state park. The entirety of the acreage is now protected against timber harvesting or any other resource extraction, preserving an important piece of undeveloped land for recreation and conservation.

  • Conservation Win: 685 acres of wild and undeveloped land protected, sustainable infrastructure built by SCC before opening to the public

  • Routes Protected: 100+

8. Over 1,000 Acres of Kentucky’s Appalachian Landscape Saved from Development

Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve, Red River Gorge, Kentucky. Ancestral lands of the 𐓏𐒰𐓓𐒰𐓓𐒷 𐒼𐓂𐓊𐒻 𐓆𐒻𐒿𐒷 𐓀𐒰^𐓓𐒰^, ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi, S’atsoyaha, Shawandasse Tula, Hopewell, and Adena. © Elodie Sarraco.

In rural southeastern Kentucky, oil, coal and timber were once King. Now outdoor recreation and climbing are leading the charge. In 2003, the land known today as the Pendergrass-Murray Recreational Preserve in the Red River Gorge could have gone to an oil company or private development., but a local family sold the land to Red River Gorge Climbers Coalition (RRGCC) instead, kickstarting a conservation revolution in the Red. RRGCC went on to add Miller Fork and Bald Rock Recreational Preserves to their properties, saving thousands of world-class routes and preserving large tracts of unbroken forest, streams, and sandstone cliffs—forever. These recreational preserves protect water, habitat and help mitigate the effects of a changing climate while pumping millions of dollars back into rural Appalachia.

  • Conservation Win: 1,161 acres secured through acquisition, sustainably managed for recreation and climbing, permanently protected with an Access Fund conservation easement

  • Routes Protected: 1,500+

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