9 Unforgettable Climbing Access Saves in the Northeast

The Northeast is home to some of America’s most iconic and historic climbing areas. And behind the scenes, there is a network of talented and dedicated local climbing advocates and conservation organizations working to protect and open new climbing areas. We’ve had the pleasure of partnering with many amazing volunteers over the years. Here are 9 of the most memorable climbing access saves in the Northeast.

1. Climbing Officially Opens in Thacher State Park

Photo credit: Brad Wenskoski

Back in 2012, local climbing advocate Mike Whelan noticed a tempting ribbon of unclimbed limestone cliffs at John Boyd Thacher State Park, just 20 minutes north of Albany. Mike quickly rallied local climbers together to form the Thacher Climbing Coalition (TCC), and reached out to Access Fund for help getting the area opened to climbing. In a coordinated effort, TCC approached park officials about opening the cliffs to climbing, and Access Fund launched a grassroots advocacy campaign to rally local climbers to submit letters to the park, encouraging them to allow climbing. The park staff was open-minded about climbing, and TCC and Access Fund worked with them to address safety concerns, trail access, fixed anchors, and natural resource protection. In 2014, the park gave TCC permission to install fixed anchors for sport climbs and begin developing access trails to the cliffs. The park was officially opened to climbing on July 1, 2017 and has quickly become a beloved local crag.

2. Eagle Bluff Saved!

Photo credit: RW Estela

In the summer of 2013, Eagle Bluff in eastern Maine was closed to climbing. Treasured by local climbers, the area features excellent granite with over 130 cracks and sport climbs, as well as bouldering. A local climber had purchased Eagle Bluff in the 90s and kept it open for climbing access, but when he passed away unexpectedly, his family closed the property due to liability concerns. Access Fund stepped in to secure an option agreement, giving climbers the exclusive right to purchase Eagle Bluff, as well as a recreational lease that reopened the area while local climbers fundraised. In just six months, climbers and conservationists from New England and beyond raised money to purchase the area, and Access Fund assigned the option agreement to Clifton Climbers Alliance to make the purchase and hold Eagle Bluff for long-term management and climber access.

3. Rumney Saved Twice!

Photo credit: Lee Hansche

Rumney was in the early years of becoming a sport climbing mecca, when in 1993 a 36-acre parcel of private land at the climbing area went up for sale. New England climbers were suddenly in danger of losing popular crags like The Meadows, 5.8 Crag, and Monsters. The neighboring White Mountain National Forest tried to buy the property, but the landowner was holding out for market value, which the US Forest Service (USFS) couldn’t meet. The USFS came to Access Fund for help, and in 1994 we purchased the tract of private land. Local climbers formed the Rumney Climbers Association (RCA) to build the main parking lot and complete trail improvements. A year later, Access Fund transferred the property to the USFS for long-term protection as part of White Mountain National Forest. Twenty-two years later, in early 2016, the final set of privately owned crags at Rumney—the Northwest Crags—went up for sale. Access Fund loaned RCA the funds to secure an option agreement, giving climbers the exclusive right to purchase the Northwest Crags. A year later, RCA and Access Fund completed the purchase and we are now working to transfer the Northwest Crags to the USFS to keep Rumney in climber friendly hands forever.

4. Six Bolton Climbing Areas Secured!

Photo credit: CRAG-VT

Many of Vermont’s best climbing areas are located on private land, presenting ongoing access challenges to local climbers. In the early 1990s, Bolton-area crags were plagued by closures due to liability concerns of landowners. To overcome these challenges, Climbing Resource Advocates of Vermont (CRAG-VT) partnered with Access Fund and Vermont Land Trust to begin a large-scale land conservation effort to protect access to these beloved local crags. Over the next two decades, the organizations have worked together to purchase and permanently protect five area crags—Bolton Dome, Lower West, Upper West, Bolton Quarry, and Carcass Crag—and secure a permanent easement to allow climbing at 82 Crag. Access Fund provided nearly $30,000 in grant funds towards these efforts, as well as a Climbing Conservation Loan of $358,750 to secure Bolton Dome. Thanks to CRAG-VT and overwhelming support from the local climbing community, climbers have a lot to be thankful for in Vermont!

5. The Near Trapp’s at the Gunks Saved from Development

Photo credit: Tomas Donoso

In 1992, a now iconic piece of private land along the Shawangunk Ridge in New York hit the real estate market. Known as the “Browne Parcel,” the land included some of the Near Trapp’s finest lines and the cherished Millbrook Ridge Trail. Because the land was just an hour from New York City, developers were actively looking to build new homes in the area, putting a key piece of Gunks climbing at risk. Unable to stand by while residential development encroached on one of America’s best crags, Access Fund signed an option to purchase the Browne Parcel, in partnership with Friends of the Shawangunks. The option agreement gave the climbing community 12 months to raise the funds to buy the property, or it would be sold to the highest bidder. Access Fund led a successful fundraising campaign, securing our first-ever grant from The Conservation Alliance to purchase the property and build a new parking area and trail. In 1993, the property was deeded to Mohonk Preserve for long-term protection and climbing access.

6. Access to Farley Ledges Protected

Photo credit: WMCC

Farley Ledges in western Massachusetts contains arguably the best climbing in southern New England. In the early 2000s, Farley Ledges had been closed four times due to growing crowds and concerns from abutting landowners. In 2007, Western Massachusetts Climbers’ Coalition (WMCC) purchased the undeveloped tract of land at the base of the cliff to protect climbing access and build a parking area before more land was lost to housing development. Access Fund provided a $10,000 grant to assist with the purchase, and 6 years later we refinanced WMCC’s bank loan under the the Access Fund Climbing Conservation Loan Program, helping WMCC save $3,500 in interest and fees that was invested in other projects that benefit the Massachusetts climbing community.

7. Access Restored at Band M Ledge

Photo credit: Loran Smith

The privately owned Band M Ledge in Madison, New Hampshire was closed in 2011 due to concerns around managing public access alongside an active quarry operation. The granite cliff was a favorite among locals, offering 50 routes ranging from 5.5 to 5.13 and a southerly aspect that gave climbers in the Mount Washington Valley an option for late and early season climbing in a beautiful and quiet setting. In 2017, Access Fund and Friends of the Ledges began working with the landowner to come to an agreement that would allow public access. Access Fund agreed to hold a three-year climbing management agreement to provide the landowner with necessary risk management and insurance provisions to address their liability concerns. There is an option to renew the agreement when it expires in three years and assign it to Friends of the Ledges. The eastern portion of Band M Ledge is now open to recreational climbing.

8. Safe Harbor’s South Crags Re-Opened!

Photo credit: Eric Horst

The south crags at Pennsylvania’s Safe Harbor were closed for nearly 20 years due to liability concerns from the municipal land managers, as well as safety concerns from the nearby rail line and power lines. Access Fund worked with local climbing advocate Eric Horst for over 10 years to address these concerns, providing land managers with climbing management support and grant funds to build a toilet and education kiosk. The area along the rail trail in Conestoga Township was finally reopened to climbing in 2011, resurrecting an important regional destination for climbers from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland.

9. Historic Ragged Mountain Purchased

Ragged Mountain is one of Connecticut’s most historic and well-visited climbing areas. In 1992, Access Fund provided a $5,000 grant to help Ragged Mountain Foundation (RMF), a local nonprofit conservation group that is dedicated to preserving natural resources and maintaining public access to Connecticut’s high and wild places, acquire 56 acres on Ragged Mountain for climbing access. RMF partnered with the Nature Conservancy to secure a conservation easement on the property, which has since been transferred to Berlin Land Trust. In 2015, Access Fund provided another grant, this one for $4,000, to help RMF acquire the north end of Ragged Mountain’s Main Face, ensuring continued climbing access for generations to come.

Credit Photo Courtesy of:
Chris Vultaggio

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Each of these saves was made possible by dedicated climbing advocates. Join the Action Network and Access Fund will let you know when there is a credible threat to climbing access.
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