Lower West Bolton Donated to CRAG-VT
By Berne Broudy
In 1999, Lower West Bolton crag went up for sale. The most climbed cliff in Vermont, Lower West's closure would have been a huge loss. Now, thanks to a group of dedicated and climbers and an extremely generous landowner, it looks like Lower West will be protected for climbing in perpetuity.
In 1999 when Lower West went on the auction block, a small group including Heather Hibbard and Adam Sherman came together, calling themselves CRAG (Climbing Resource Access Group) Vermont. Barely organized and only a handful of members strong, the group was too little and too late to save the Bolton property from being sold. The cliff and the surrounding 260-acres were sold by the absentee landowner.
Most climbing in VT is on private land, and many Vermont landowners allow access to their property. Progressive recreational use statutes protect Vermont landowners who open their land to hikers, bikers, hunters, skiers, climbers and other outdoors enthusiasts. But the boom in the popularity of climbing combined with the modern trend to sue has a lot of Vermont landowners reconsidering whether recreational use is worth the risk. Many don't know that law is in their favor, and concerns about legal liability and increasing numbers of visitors has resulted in the closure of multiple climbing areas.
When Patrick Smith of Huntington acquired the Bolton Crag, his position on climbing was unknown. Hibbard and Sherman took the initiative and invited Smith to walk the 10-acre cliff, introducing him to the resource and educating him about his landowner rights.
Smith was surprised and impressed. "I've always loved to swim in Huntington Gorge," says Smith, "and I appreciate the efforts that have kept the Gorge open for recreation. I had no idea that I had a similar resource on my land. When I went out with Heather and Adam, I saw people of all ages climbing. Everyone was really into it, and I knew I wanted to help CRAG-VT conserve that land for climbing."
When Smith proposed a subdivision of his land to the town, CRAG-VT offered to buy the Lower West cliff. In March 2002, Smith offered to gift Lower West Bolton cliff to CRAG-VT. Says Smith, "I want to keep the crag open for climbers, but I'm not going to be around forever and someone else might not feel the same way."
The unexpected donation spurred CRAG-VT to incorporate, organize founding members into a board of directors and begin application for status as a non-profit educational entity. Through the Access Fund and local distributor Climb High, CRAG-VT received a $1000 grant for education and conservation at Lower West.
There are still several hurdles for CRAG-VT before the land transfer is complete. The town of Bolton needs to approve the land division since the cliff does not have its own road access, and CragVT needs to raise money to pay for surveying the land, property taxes and other associated fees. Pam Moreau, a local climber and lawyer, has generously donated legal council.
The issue of what to do with the crag in the long-term is also looming. When Lower West ownership is transferred to CRAG-VT, they will become one of two climbing organizations in the US to own property. They hope to put restrictions on the parcel insuring climbing for perpetuity, and turn the land over to a larger conservation organization.
CRAG-VT president Heather Hibbard says, "We're not interested in setting policy, influencing legislation or setting a code of ethics for Vermont climbers. We want to educate, and serve as a resource for climbers and landowners. We want to raise awareness on both sides, and we want to promote stewardship of areas where people climb."
CRAG-VT launched a membership drive October 1. For more information, to join, or to make a donation to support the purchase of Lower West Bolton, visit www.cragvt.org. For information on your liability as a landowner under Vermont law, contact Ginger Anderson at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources at 802-241-3610 and request the booklet Public Recreation on Private Land: A Landowners Guide. [As of June 2004, Ginger Anderson may be reached at 802-241-3651.]