|UMD's Climbing Coordinator Lucas Kramer|
A week ago today the team I have been consulting with here in Duluth unveiled their 5 proposed outdoor projects for the Cities 1/2 and 1/2 Tax.
Some of this tax, which is a tourism tax, is being proposed to be invested in several Outdoor Recreation projects that most communities would consider non-traditional. That is they are not your average parks and rec. infrastructure.
I am hoping to get to a post on all of the proposed projects but one in particular has already received a lot of press and I wanted to speak that one before I get to posting on the others.
That project is the Ice Climbing Park proposed at the historic Casket Quarry. What is proposed is to acquire the property that the Quarry exists on and to do some minor improvements to parking and to also "farm" ice on the edges of the quarry to give it more consistent ice but also to create entry level climbing. This proposal came from the Duluth Climbers Coalition, a local organization formed around the idea of local advocacy for climbing in Duluth.
|Casket Quarry in winter|
"The land (quarry) was originally owned and worked by the Duluth Crushed Stone Co. throughout the early 20th century. By the time the company ceased operations it had quarried out a 1000-foot-long, 100-foot-high cliff of black gabbro. By the 1970s, groundwater seeping down the rock face that froze into impressive icicles and pillar formations had attracted the attention of the local ice climbing community. Throughout the ensuing decades, visitors from beyond Duluth became commonplace as word spread throughout the Midwest of this superb concentration of vertical ice climbing.
More recently, Casket Quarry’s reputation as a steep and spectacular climbing location has been augmented by the focused development of mixed climbing routes. Today, it is a premier site and training ground for mixed climbing throughout the winter months, utilized by recreational climbers, university climbing programs, and guided groups." (Language pulled from The Duluth Climbers Coalition proposal).
In fact our little known Casket Quarry has spawned a world class alpinist in Adam Dailey who was featured in the Duluth News Tribune this very weekend.
|Adam Dailey warming up|
Climbing at Casket Quarry has long been a don't ask don't tell situation. A good and a bad thing. Good because nobody tends to bother you. Bad because a lot blood sweat and tears goes into developing a climbing route and many folks put a lot of passion into doing that. Without proper permission those routes are always in danger. Also, as Casket is unmanaged a lot garbage and debris gets dumped on and around the routes. Not only is this unsightly it can have its own dangers as well. Nothing like having a TV hucked over your head while your sending a climb!
To me the Casket Quarry Project hits a lot of important touch points.
|Tyler Overby well committed|
First, that a climbing area that has had so some much effort put into it can be protected, that local climbers can lay claim to the hard work they have done and even offer it to others to try it out.
Secondly, is the idea that an abandoned industrial site in the middle of our community can be shined up and turned into a destination class recreational amenity. Not just for climbers, but also for the hikers, dog walkers and neighborhood folks who are already using it.
Casket is also a symbol for nearly all of our marque parks and open spaces in Duluth. We tend to take those spaces for granted but the reality is that many of them are St. Louis County Tax forfeit parcels that are un-protected as parks or recreational spaces. We recreate on them as if they are parks but they are not and by law the County is tasked with selling and possibly putting them back on the tax rolls.
The acquisition of Casket is a test case for what could happen across the city if we step forward and value these places for what we use them for, in other words we can work with the County to identify the key parcels needed for recreation and acquire or protect them for future generations and future conservation or recreation.
|A perfect park for all sorts of uses|
Also Casket due to its central location creates another link in how we can bring Outdoor Adventure to many folks who might never have the chance to experience it. We are blessed in Duluth in the fact that all of our amazing Outdoor Recreation is inside the City limits and thus is able to be offered to kids who might not have the resources to try it and to folks of all races and genders who might not generally be exposed to these sports, including climbing.
|"Prince of Darkness"|
The knee jerk reaction by most folks of course is liability. Is it safe, can it be managed? One of our City Councilors grabbed onto that immediately as did the press...albeit horribly and uniformed as in this highly inaccurate piece from WDIO.
The reality is that climbing and ice climbing specifically are being managed in a safe way across the country. This would not be a new thing. In fact one great model is in Sandstone, Minnesota just down the road.
Another great model is in Ouray, CO and since we have proposed this project we are hearing for other spots doing similar things in New England and in other spots in the midwest.
These spots, as well as many others, present great precedents that the local climbers and the city can use to create a safe environment at Casket Quarry for folks to enjoy.
The fact of the matter is that climbing is actually really safe. Consider this language I pulled from a recent study being done in Ithaca, NY for an ice park there.
"Ice climbing has high apparent risk, but is actually quite safe. It looks dangerous, but due to safety equipment (ropes, anchors, helmets, etc.), techniques (belaying, top roping, etc.), and experienced practitioners, the risk is actually quite low. As Schoffl, et al (2010) report. “Overall, climbing sports had a lower injury incidence and severity score than many popular sports, including basketball, sailing or soccer.” Adding to the safety of ice climbing is the relatively high cost of equipment, which keeps “copy cats” from participating and which serves as a barrier to entry, discouraging amateurs or the untrained from causing safety issues. Schoffl, et al (2009) found that “The results of injury risk per 1000 hours of participation in ice-climbing was comparable to that of indoor competition climbing and other outdoor sports (hiking, mountain biking, kayaking). The injury risk was also much less than a standard sport such as soccer.”
|Know your knots or learn from somebody certified who does!|
The last thing I will mention is that having a successful venture with a Casket Quarry Ice Climbing Park is advantageous to all of the outdoor users in Duluth and to Duluth's economy.
Yes, relative to other user groups climbers are a small number. That said the visual and cultural impact of having climbing as part of Duluth's outdoor offering is key to promoting Duluth as a great place to live and a great place to visit as an outdoor enthusiast.
Its the secret sauce that very few midwestern towns can tout or promote and we are lucky to have the opportunity to support it.
|Top roping a safe way to play|