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Photography: Ted Schiele

In 2003, climbers formed the non-profit CRAG-VT in order to pay for surveying and subdivision of the land that included the Lower West. The landowner at the time, Patrick Smith, donated the cliffs to the nascent organization. 

In 2004, CRAG-VT purchased the Bolton Quarry, a 30-acre parcel that includes stunning vertical ice pillars and some classic rock climbs. CRAG-VT then worked with the Vermont Land Trust (VLT) and Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB) to establish a conservation easement that ensures permanent protection for future climbing and recreation.

In 2008, The Vermont Land Trust (VLT) helped the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) acquire an easement which ensured conservation and public recreation rights on the land where the 82 Crag is located. CRAG-VT collaborated with both groups to ensure climbing access was included in these protections.

The 82 Crag conservation protections came at a critical time. With its close proximity to Burlington, this area of forestland was at risk for development. The conservation of this land became part of the Chittenden County Uplands Conservation Project—a cooperative effort by many local groups and statewide organizations and agencies to conserve the ecological integrity, rural character, and working landscape of the northeastern uplands of Chittenden County.

CRAG-VT worked for two years to establish permanent protection for this beautiful and historic cliff, and in May of 2009 purchased Upper West Bolton. This acquisition protected 18 acres of rock faces, hiking trails, a boulder field and a hilltop summit.  After the purchase, CRAG-VT collaborated with the Vermont Land Trust (VLT) to secure a conservation easement that permanently guarantees public access, climbing, and preservation of the cliff’s natural environment–regardless of future ownership status. 

In 2010, CRAG-VT purchased the Carcass Crag, one of Bolton’s steepest and best sport climbing cliffs. This acquisition expanded the Bolton Quarry property by three acres, thereby including the Carcass Crag in the existing Quarry conservation easement and ensuring permanent access for climbing and recreation.  

Some of Vermont’s best rock and ice climbing and bouldering is found on state of Vermont lands State Lands including Mt. Pisgah, Smugglers’ Notch, Mount Wheeler and Marshfield Ledge.  The relationship between CRAG-VT and ANR has been extremely fruitful over the years and has established uniform guidelines for climbers to follow when using state lands.   

In 2016, CRAG-VT, in collaboration with the State of Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, completed a Memorandum of Understanding and a Climbing Management plan for climbing resources located on lands held by the state of Vermont.  This agreement was the culmination of 5 years of work by CRAG-VT to establish a solid working relationship with ANR.  Through this collaboration, CRAG-VT described the usage patterns and impacts of climbers on the resource and how climbing is managed on other private and public lands.  With the formal adoption of the MOU and Climbing Management Plan, CRAG-VT has become the de facto liaison between the ANR and the climbing community.  CRAG-VT and the ANR meet yearly to review climbing activity on public lands and any new developments. We discuss any potential areas of friction with other users and any impacts on natural communities that might have arisen.  Then, working together, we develop plans to mitigate these issues so that climbers can retain access to the extensive opportunities available on state lands. 

CRAG-VT built a relationship with the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont at Rock Point to open this gorgeous cliff to climbing in 2017. Ongoing access is contingent on the climbing community’s adherence to the access agreement, outlined in the Access Beta. CRAG-VT pays an annual donation to the diocese in support of their stewardship of the property and their willingness to collaborate with climbers. 

Closed for decades, CRAG-VT purchased the Bolton Dome property in 2017 with the help of a $356,000 loan from the Access Fund. To date, this is CRAG’s biggest climbing area acquisition. The Dome is now protected for permanent conservation and recreation. CRAG-VT seasonally rents parking lot use on behalf of climbers from the neighboring landowner. 

This is a complex project for CRAG-VT, and in addition to the cost of the property purchase, we have incurred an estimated $100,000 in additional expenses associated with property assessments, attorney fees and legal filings, and establishment of the conservation easement.  Thus, The Bolton Dome is an open project that will require years of stewardship, fundraising, and community involvement to reach its full potential as a climbing area.

“Secure Access” — what does that mean?

CRAG-VT acts as a representative of the Vermont Climbing Community to make sure that climbers can continue to climb on the cliffs we love. To this end, we build and maintain long-term relationships with landowners and state agencies, sometimes we purchase property, obtain conservation easements or negotiate and secure landowner agreements — all on behalf of climbers. However, the work doesn’t stop once a cliff is ‘secured’, at that point it is up to climbers as a community to steward these areas, taking care of the cliffside ecosystem and the human relationships with neighboring landowners and towns.

We’ve been doing this work for the past two decades, and a lot has happened in that time. See below to learn about the Vermont climbing areas we worked to protect. If you climb in Vermont, please consider joining as a CRAG-VT Member.

Photography: Michael Pronzato