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Climbers Buy New Bouldering Area In Illinois

This is a big win for Midwest climbing.

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Access Fund and Illinois Climbers Association (ICA) are thrilled to announce the purchase and protection of the House Boulders, a new bouldering area and conservation corridor in southern Illinois.

Located in the heartland of the country, the House Boulders climbing area sits on the western edge of the Shawnee National Forest in the Mississippi Bluffs region, named for its stunning views over the Mississippi River valley. This acquisition conserves 20 acres of land—which has the potential for approximately 70 boulder problems at all levels—for recreation and wildlife habitat.

The property sits adjacent to the Holy Boulders, a climbing area that Access Fund purchased in 2012 and then transferred to ICA for long-term ownership and management. It also shares the same high-quality, fine-grained grey sandstone. However, House Boulders stands alone in its unique setting—a tightly stacked boulder field on a steep, west-facing hillside nestled among hardwoods.

David Quinney, ICA board member, climbing at the House Boulders. Photo by Kevin Sierzega.

While a handful of people have climbed on the property with landowner permission in the past, this purchase secures permanent climbing access for all. In the fall of 2020, ICA heard that the property was up for sale, and after connecting with the landowner they reached out to Access Fund for financial backing through the Climbing Conservation Loan Program. With Access Fund’s support, ICA was able to buy the property for recreation and conservation.

“We are committed to conserving climbing in Illinois,” says Phillip Carrier, president of the Illinois Climbers Association. “And we’re proud that this purchase allows climbers in the Midwest and beyond to play a critical role in preserving not only their climbing future, but also the health of the land.”

The House Boulders area sits next to an Illinois Land and Water Reserve and just north of Clear Springs and Bald Knob Wilderness, together encompassing over 10,700 acres of protected state and federal land. Native biodiversity of the landscape is tremendous and includes habitat for state-threatened or state-endangered species. Within the area, a natural phenomenon occurs biannually when dozens of species of reptiles and amphibians migrate between lower elevation habitat and  higher-elevation drier slopes for hibernation. The House Boulders acquisition adds to this corridor of protected land.

The House Boulders also sits within an economically depressed region, with Jackson County having the highest poverty rate in Illinois at 25%. The purchase will help bolster the growing outdoor recreation and tourism economy in southern Illinois, adding another recreational resource that will draw more visitors to the region to discover the rich beauty of the area. When visitors come to climb, they will also find dozens of wineries, breweries, cabin rentals, and amenities to support and enrich their stay.

The House Boulders is ICA’s second land acquisition, the first being the Holy Boulders transfer from Access Fund in 2016. House Boulders is the 33rd climbing area conserved through Access Fund’s Climbing Conservation Loan Program (CCLP). ICA will fundraise to repay the conservation loan over time, returning money to help Access Fund save another new or threatened climbing area in the future. Since CCLP’s inception, Access Fund has loaned nearly $3.3 million to protect more than 4,000 acres and over 5,000 climbing routes, at an overall value of $7.5 million.

While initial funding has secured the House Boulders, ICA needs the help of local climbers and conservationists to raise $80,000 over the next three years to pay off the conservation loans and complete the purchase. ICA has already begun its fundraising through the return of its annual competition, Holy Boulders: The Pilgrimage, which took place on November 6, 2021. The competition brought together over 300 climbers from across the country and raised over $15,000. To find more information and to donate to the project directly, visit ilclimbers.org/houseboulders.

Access Details

It will be some time before the area can officially open for regular public use. ICA will build a new parking area and trailhead off Hutchins Creek Road, as well as a half mile of new trail to provide sustainable access to the boulders. These improvements are expected to begin immediately with volunteer support while the ICA seeks to secure additional funding for improvements. Check ICA’s website for updates and ways to get involved. ilclimbers.org

About ICA

The Illinois Climbers Association is a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to preserve climbing areas and access in Illinois through education, conservation, and cooperation. ICA currently owns and manages the Holy Boulders climbing area. ICA works with local, state, and federal agencies to encourage the preservation of climbing areas through policy and stewardship. For more information, visit ilclimbers.org.

About Access Fund

Access Fund is the national advocacy organization that leads and inspires the climbing community toward sustainable access and conservation of the climbing environment. Founded in 1991, Access Fund supports and represents millions of climbers nationwide in all forms of climbing: rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, and bouldering. Access Fund works to protect America’s climbing at the national and local levels by protecting public lands, restoring climbing areas, buying threatened climbing, protecting private land access, inspiring climbing advocacy, mentoring responsible climbers, and replacing aging bolts. For more information, visit accessfund.org.