Climbers Rally to Restore Popular Midwest Climbing Area

Loryn Posladek and Kyle Leihsing are the expert trailbuilders and all-around awesome folks who make up one of Access Fund’s Conservation Teams. Recently, they completed a three-week crag rehabilitation project in Pictured Rocks, Iowa, where the small-but-mighty climbing community there blew them away.

Climbing in Pictured Rocks County Park, Iowa. Ancestral lands of Ioway, Sauk, Fox, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, and Kickapoo. © Raud Kashef.

Pictured Rocks County Park is a shady limestone cliff along the Maquoketa River in eastern Iowa. It’s home to over 100 routes of pumpy sport climbing and pocketed bouldering, making it an invaluable climbing resource for those in the region. The Conservation Team arrived in Iowa to lend their trailbuilding expertise to an expansive project at the Comic Gallery area of Pictured Rocks to rehabilitate and reinforce the heavily trafficked crag with sustainable trails and belay platforms.

“This turned into one heck of a project and visit for Loryn and Kyle,” says Ty Tyler, Access Fund stewardship director. The planned project was ambitious, calling for heavy-duty stonework, stairs, and retaining walls, but Iowa Climbers Coalition rallied their community to pitch in.

“The success of the project hinged on the community showing up,” says Andrea Hassler, Access Fund stewardship manager. “It’s an excellent example of how a small climbing community can make a big difference in their local climbing area.”

Read more about the project in this dispatch from the field in the Conservation Team’s own words:

One of the most common questions we get asked is, “What’s your favorite place to work?”

We’ve been on the road as one of the Access Fund Conservation Teams for nearly three years. We’ve worked at some of the most famous crags in the country as well as some of the smallest, and we’ve worked with hundreds of amazing volunteers and climbing coalitions across the U.S. In other words, it’s a difficult question to answer. But after working with Iowa Climbers Coalition and the volunteers they rallied to work in Pictured Rocks, we definitely have a new contender for our favorite place to work.

Our mission in Pictured Rocks was to help stabilize an eroding slope in the Comic Gallery area, where the route Flash resides, one of the state’s classic and most sought after lines. The ICC had been trying to get momentum on the project for over ten years and finally were able to make it happen. Over fifteen tons of material were delivered to the parking lot and over a hundred volunteers came out during the three weeks we were there to help move it to the site and learn how to build it into forty-five steps and two huge retaining walls.

Work moved fast with that beautiful quarried stone and it was a ton of fun to build with. The true highlight, though, was the volunteers. Over fourteen work days, we never once worked alone. That’s never happened before. People took time off work and away from climbing to make sure we had people with us every day, whatever the day of the week or how hot the weather. We’ve never had so many repeat volunteers either. One volunteer put in more work days with us than he had ever climbed at the crag!

From day one, Raud and the ICC made us feel welcome. The hardest part of life on the road is the lack of community, but we immediately felt a part of this one. They brought snacks to share to every trail day and the best attitudes despite the hard work of moving rocks all day for days in a row. They were jazzed to learn all the skills we could throw at them and smiled through crushed fingers and busted shins. They danced, laughed, and came up with the craziest way of moving rocks we’ve ever seen.

Neither of us flashed “Flash,” but at the end of the day we were happy to leave a stable belay platform behind for it—a platform big enough for handstands, backflips, and a whole crew to cheer you through the crux. We are so incredibly appreciative of the hard work the Iowa Climbers Coalition put in to protect their crag. Halfway through the season when our morale is typically low and temps are high, this experience was just what we needed. Thank you Raud, Jaimie, Adam, Daniella, Patrick, Lukas, and everyone else who put in the time, effort, money, and backs to make this project a success.

You can learn more about ICC on their website. Check out @iowaclimbing on Instagram to see some pictures and videos of all the hard work—and some of the goofy shenanigans—that went into the project. And keep an eye out for us next time we roll through your area—we can always use a hand!

- Loryn & Kyle

Loryn and Kyle make up one of Access Fund's Conservation Teams. They are expert trailbuilders who travel the country 10 months out of the year, helping local climbing communities create and execute on sustainable stewardship and conservation plans in their communities.