A recent land purchase will give climbers permanent access to Skaha Bluffs, British Columbia, Canada. Currently there is no legal public access or parking, so spring and summer access are up in the air until an interim solution is found or the new access road and parking lot is built on the acquired land. [Photo] Howie Richardson
The Climbers’ Access Society of British Columbia recently announced the $5.25 million purchase of sublot 18, a 750-acre property southeast of the Skaha Bluffs that will provide permanent public parking and access to the climbing area. The Skaha Bluffs are a series of coarse-grained gneiss cliffs on the east side of the Okanagan Valley, near Penticton, about four hours east of Vancouver. There are 900 routes, which are mostly sport but a third are trad routes.
The climbs are on public land, but until a new access road and parking area are built on sublot 18, there is no access for Skaha that does not involve crossing private land or parking illegally. Previously climbers were able to park at Braesyde Farm, which is on land privately owned by Hugh Dunlop. Dunlop has allowed the public to park on his land since 1992, but he closed the lot on November 4, 2007, because he is trying to sell his land and was tired of dealing with the red tape.
“Hugh has been very generous to climbers,” said Howie Richardson, author of Skaha Rock Climbs and previous member of The Climbers’ Access Society. “However, the city has never given him support and mass climbers aren’t the easiest people to deal with. It’s the accumulation that has caused him to close the lot.”
According to Richardson there is currently no interim plan for spring access, but the fundraisers will meet on February 4 to discuss possible solutions. Lots of money is still needed to build the access road and parking lot and eventually bathroom and camping facilities.
“In the long run this purchase is great for climbers, but lots of things still need fixing up in the short term,” Richardson said.
The acquisition of sublot 18 is the product of a fifteen-year effort spearheaded by climbers to get permanent access to Skaha Bluffs. The Climbers’ Access Society helped gain support and facilitate communication, but The Land Conservancy of B.C. (TLC), Mountain Equipment Co-op and the Canadian Government were the driving forces in the deal. Mountain Equipment Co-op hired Bill Turner, TLC’s executive director, to negotiate with the private landowner and the government. According to Richardson the TLC did a great job putting funds together and getting the government to help buy the land.
“The purchase of this property recognizes the importance of providing recreational access and, at the same time, protecting a vital area for the conservation of wildlife,” Turner said. “The successful completion of the campaign could not have happened without support from the climbing community, and the many wildlife and conservation groups and individuals who are dedicated to B.C.’s wildlife.”
The proposed Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park on sublot 18 is made up of coniferous forest, rugged cliffs and some grasslands. This habitat helps support up to fifteen species-at-risk, including bighorn sheep, snakes, bats and nesting birds. There are more endangered species located in British Columbia than anywhere else in Canada, according to Richardson, and two-thirds of the 750 acres bought is a wildlife habitat. Only about fifty acres is marked for visitor parking and public facilities.
The presence of so many endangered species in Skaha has not been a huge problem for climbers because there is a voluntary agreement not to climb in the cliffs past a feature called the Grand Canyon where the terrain gets more rugged and there are more bighorn sheep, said Anders Ourum, a founding director of the Climbers’ Access Society and president from 1995 to 2004. Climbers need to be careful of snakes and birds in the cliffs, but an overall respect of the habitat will ensure that climbing in the park will continue.
Of the $5.25 million raised, TLC raised $1.7 million (including $350,000 from climbers, $10,000 from the Access Fund, and $300,000 from the Mountain Equipment Co-op among other donors), the Nature Conservancy of Canada, with the Government of Canada’s support provided $2.3 million, and B.C.’s Ministry of Environment provided $1.25 million.