As Interest in Rock Climbing Soars, Lyme Says: Not Here

Oct 25, 2017

View from Holt's Ledge in 2012
Credit Nick Goldsmith / Courtesy of CLyme

Lyme residents packed their school's gymnasium Tuesday night for a special town meeting on the future of a local rock climbing destination known as Holt’s Ledge.

By a strong margin, they voted to remove metal hardware from the rock wall, which abuts Dartmouth’s Skiway. The hardware – known as bolts – allows climbers to anchor themselves to the rock surface, making the area safer and more accessible to those less advanced in the sport. It was installed without permission from the town.

Ice climbers and advanced rock climbers have frequented Holt's Ledge for decades, but some – including Lyme’s Select Board and adjacent property owners -- argue the bolts have attracted significantly more people. They allege that’s resulted in harm to foliage, and to peregrine falcons that use the site as a nesting ground. Plus, they say, there have been issues with noise and litter.

The Town of Lyme closed the area last year and moved this spring to have the bolts removed. “We want the bolts cut,” said Select Board Vice Chair Sue MacKenzie. “We’re not denying climbing.”

She said the town plans to reopen the area once the bolts are removed. 

But local climbers say this is a mistake. They formed a group called CLyme to organize against the town’s action, arguing that cutting the bolts would close the area to the vast majority of recreational climbers. Having a safe, accessible outdoor rock wall would be a great asset to the local community, they say.

CLyme has been working with the Access Fund, a non-profit that works to keep climbing areas open and conserved. Mike Morin, the organization’s northeast regional director, said the debate in Lyme is unique in his experience. “There's a lot of small town politics, neighborly disputes perhaps, that are complicating the issue," he said. He adds that bolting is common practice on public lands across the country.  

CLyme petitioned for the meeting Tuesday, which MacKenzie said - as far as she's aware - was the first special town meeting in Lyme's history. But, defeated by voters in that venue, the group has one last hope. They say the property where Holt's Ledge sits actually belongs to Dartmouth College, and therefore the Town of Lyme does not have the authority to remove the bolts. Reached by email, a representative from Dartmouth said the college is researching the issue.