Rock climbers throughout
western Canada – and beyond – heaved a collective sigh of relief at the recent
news that a 304-hectare parcel of land had been secured to provide both parking
and access to the popular Skaha Bluffs rock climbing area in Penticton, B.C.
After months of negotiations,
an announcement was made on Jan. 19 that the Land Conservancy of BC (TLC) and
the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC), through the NCC-Government of Canada
Natural Areas Conservation Program, had partnered with Mountain Equipment Co-op
and other supporters to acquire the property immediately south of the popular
The parcel of land will not
only provide permanent access and parking for climbers heading to the dozens of
cliffs which comprise Skaha Bluffs, but will also help protect the area’s high
recreation and conservation values, as it is slated to be managed as a Class A
B.C. Provincial Park.
A 14-year agreement between
Braesyde Farm landowner Hugh Dunlop and the local climbing community, which
provided parking on his property for a fee, expired in November 2006 at the end
of the climbing season, even as Dunlop accepted an offer to sell his property
to be developed into a vineyard.
Faced without an alternate
access and parking solution in the spring of 2007, the climbing community was
able to work out another deal with Dunlop for the 2007 season after his
property sale fell through, and while negotiations and fundraising efforts to
purchase the parcel of land to the south were worked out.
Since going public with the
campaign to purchase the private land in March 2007, donations poured in from
across Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and England, with contributions
from climbers, outdoor enthusiasts and naturalists, as well as several
organizations like the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund, the B.C. Trust for
Public Lands and the Nature Trust of B.C. Significant corporate contributions
added to the pot, including $10,000 from The Access Society and a $250,000 land
acquisition grant from retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC). In addition to
the grant, MEC offered to match donations made by its members up to $100,000.
To meet the $5.25 million
sale price, B.C.'s Ministry of Environment stepped in to provide $1.25 million,
the Nature Conservancy of Canada, with support from the Government of Canada,
provided $2.3 million and The Land Conservancy raised $1.7 million.
"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," said
TLC executive director Bill Turner. "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 newly acquired land falls
within the proposed Skaha Bluffs Provincial Park, as recommended in the
Okanagan Shuswap Land and Resource Management Plan. The property is comprised
of coniferous forest, riparian areas, rugged terrain and some shrub-steppe
grasslands — habitat that helps support up to 15 species-at-risk, including
California bighorn sheep.
The Skaha Bluffs climbing
area is a collection of over 50 gneiss cliffs with over 800 climbs ranging from
10 to 55 metres in length. The region’s long season draws about 18,000 climbers
annually from around the world – and in particular from southern B.C. and
Alberta. While roughly 75 per cent of the Bluffs used by climbers are located
on Crown (public) land, the Bluffs are isolated by a continuous strip of
private, residential developments and agricultural land.
“Everybody’s thrilled there’s
a piece of property that’s been bought,” said Sean Dougherty, Penticton area
climber, guidebook author and owner/operator of the Skaha.org website. “It’s
big, and only a small piece needs to be used as a parking lot. The land will
provide access for a wide variety of users, including mountain bikers and the
sheep, and conservationists. A lot of uses will have to be accommodated in some
way, shape or form.”
But while the land purchase
does provide a long-term solution, Dougherty said, arrangements for the 2008
spring climbing season have yet to be sorted out.
“It’s not clear what’s going
to happen this year at all,” Dougherty said. “There remains a lot to be done.
The road is not sufficiently good to allow passage of 100 cars on Easter
weekend. And we do have to drive across someone else’s property to get to it.
It’s not a simple slam dunk. The solution is still a work in progress.”
For those familiar with the
Skaha climbing area, the new parking will be situated directly to the south of
the bluffs – an immediate right turn from the top of the long, steep staircase
sport climbers have been grumbling their way up for years.
“It will make the walk
shorter, there won’t be any stairs, it will be the same level as the stairs,”
Stairs or not, all parties
agree the news is good news.
"The purchase of this
property is great news for our region," said Bill Barisoff, MLA for
Penticton-Okanagan Valley. "With the certainty surrounding public access
now secured by this new property, the Skaha Bluffs can continue to be a
world-class climbing destination.”
For more information, visit