2/9/12 - The Muir Valley Nature Preserve (MVNP), a major climbing area in the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, is in danger of closing. Muir Valley is a non-profit organization owned by Rick and Liz Weber; they pay for the MVNP primarily with their own funds and are able to offset costs through donations by recreational users. The Webers don’t charge an admission fee.
The MVNP’s popularity has been growing rapidly over the recent years, with an estimated 30,000 visitors in 2011. With the rise in visitors comes a rise in operating costs, and the Webers have been faced with more challenges in keeping the area open—and free—to the public.
Many climbers donate to the Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition to support the Red River Gorge, mistakenly thinking that their donation supports the whole region. But the Muir Valley, and many other private nature preserves in the area, doesn’t benefit from those donations.
Michelle Ellington, who helped write the Red River Gorge guidebook with her husband, Ray, is spearheading the effort to save Muir Valley through fundraising and spreading awareness. “This is big,” said Ellington. “We’re going to lose Muir Valley.” For her, this is more than just another fundraiser. “The goal here is to raise awareness of the value Muir Valley has to the world. The hope is to bring collaborators together, and develop a plan for the future,” she said. Ellington led another fundraising campaign for the Red River Gorge in 2005, in which she raised more than $27,000 in a matter of months.
“There is an opportunity at hand for the climbing community to demonstrate interest and commitment in keeping Muir Valley open and to secure it as a climbing venue well into the future,” said Ellington. “Losing Muir Valley is not an option.
The Webers purchased the land in 2004 and began developing climbing routes and trails for visitors; now, there are more than 300 routes, from 5.4 to 5.14a. The valley sits on about 350 acres, with seven miles of sandstone cliffs. Muir Valley was named for John Muir.