Colorado’s Iconic Thumb and Needle Saved
Granite spires are centerpoint of new Thumb Open Space for Estes Park
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Access Fund is pleased to announce that—with significant assistance from the climbing community—the Town of Estes Park, Colorado has just purchased and permanently protected a portion of Prospect Mountain, home to the iconic granite climbing on the Thumb and Needle spires. These public lands will now be preserved in perpetuity as Thumb Open Space.
First climbed by the legendary Tom Hornbein in the late 1940s, these two features were later used by Tommy Caldwell as a training ground. The property now offers nearly 50 routes from 5.0 all the way up to 5.13, as well as high-quality bouldering. The area is also known for its great hiking, trail running, and dog walking—with Longs Peak, Mount Meeker, and Twin Sisters in view from nearly the entire trail.
Until now, this idyllic area was privately owned and the climbing areas had been closed to public access. In 2019, it was put up for sale on the open market, where it could have been sold and developed. Access Fund had been working to secure this climbing area for nearly a decade, but the price tag put it out of reach for any one community group to save.
However, a coalition of climbers, hikers, business owners, conservation organizations, and local government agencies joined forces to begin working on a solution to protect this exceptional landscape as a primitive, 65-acre open space park for conservation, hiking, climbing, bouldering, instruction, and environmental education.
First climbed by the legendary Tom Hornbein in the late 1940s, these two features were later used by Tommy Caldwell as a training ground. The property now offers nearly 50 routes from 5.0 all the way up to 5.13, as well as high-quality bouldering.
Access Fund mobilized the local climbing community to raise money toward the acquisition, which was finalized last week. In addition to Access Fund, the purchase was made possible by Great Outdoors Colorado, The Conservation Alliance, Estes Valley Land Trust, Innovo Foundation, Colorado Mountain Club-Boulder Group, and hundreds of local private donors.
“Access Fund is thrilled that these lands will be permanently protected for low-impact recreation, wildlife habitat, and community education,” says Chris Winter, executive director of Access Fund. “When champions for outdoor recreation and conservation work together towards a common goal, we can move mountains—or at least save them. Thank you to all of our partners.”
Thumb Open Space is now owned by the Town of Estes Park, which is working to create an open space management plan that balances recreation, ecological values, and quality of life for residents of the adjacent neighborhood and community. The area provides a key link to a major wildlife corridor for elk, deer, bear, mountain lions, and other fauna, and is also frequented by raptors.
Access Fund and Rocky Mountain Conservancy began trailwork last year to improve the existing trail and provide sustainable access to the Thumb and Needle spires. Once completed, the trail will be accessible to handcycles so that adaptive athletes can access the climbing areas under their own power, providing a one-of-a-kind adventure.
“It was a pleasure working with Access Fund to map out a trail that will be more usable to a variety of mobility devices, including handcycles, giving adaptive athletes like myself a unique opportunity to access some great climbing,” says adaptive athlete Quinn Brett.
Both Access Fund and Rocky Mountain Conservancy have committed professional trail crews for the summer of 2021 to continue improving the trails and staging areas to create a sustainable and resilient recreation resource.
Although the existing deeded trail is open to the public, the property is not yet open to climbing; it is expected to open to climbing by the summer of 2022. Please be patient and, once opened, respect adjacent private property.
About Access Fund
Access Fund is the national advocacy organization that keeps climbing areas open and conserves 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 www.accessfund.org.