Lyme votes to cut Holt's Ledge bolts

by Rachel Pakianathan | 11/7/17 2:00am

On Oct. 24, residents of Lyme voted in favor of a town ordinance to cut the climbing bolts out of Holt’s Ledge, a popular recreational spot among local climbers. Holt’s Ledge borders a Dartmouth Skiway trail.

The special town vote was held after local climbers challenged the Lyme Select Board’s ordinance to restrict climbing on Holt’s Ledge until the bolts were removed, according to Select Board vice chair Sue MacKenzie. Climbing bolts are drilled into the rock, and climbers attach their safety gear to them. Last summer, town officials closed the areas after they discovered about 200 bolts had been installed without permission, according to the Valley News.

Lyme climber, Dartmouth Outing Club member and earth sciences graduate student John Gartner Gr’15, said that in 2011, a small group of climbers placed routes that use a mixture of bolts and traditional gear on the bottom 100 feet of Holt’s Ledge.

Lyme residents voted 143 to 74 in favor of the ordinance to cut down the bolts, citing increased noise and activity concerns since the bolts were put up, MacKenzie said.

“It just got to be too much, and it was just too much [of] a nuisance, because people were coming in and cutting trees, trespassing on property, parking in [residents’] driveways and blocking the roads,” MacKenzie said. “The more it gets to be known, the more popular it becomes and the more people show up, and it becomes something that is impossible to control.”

Gartner also said that the spot had become more popular recently.

“The way I see this is that there’s been some growing pains,” he said. “With the bolts, there were more people going up there than had been. It went from being a few parties per year to a few parties per week.”

DOC member Philip Bennett ’19 said that the DOC favors more established climbing spots like those in Rumney, New Hampshire as opposed to Holt’s Ledge. Students on DOC trips are instructed to stay on designated paths and be respectful of the land, he said.

“That’s definitely something we’ve talked about within the club, in terms of ‘leave no trace’ principles and how we’re treating the land we’re going to climb,” he said.

MacKenzie noted that people have climbed Holt’s Ledge “for decades without a problem.”

“[Without the bolts] there won’t be a whole lot of people out there, trying to climb. It takes a different level of expertise [without the bolts],” she said.

Gartner called the Select Board ordinance to cut the bolts on Holt’s Ledge a “false compromise,” citing safety and legitimacy concerns.

“Without the bolts, the climbs become incredibly dangerous,” Gartner said. “It’s not about whether you’re good enough to do the climbing or not, it’s just more about whether you’re daring enough to do the climbing.”

He added that with the bolts, climbers only climb the bottom 100 feet of the cliff, but without them, people will climb to the top and likely cause more noise, possibly exacerbating noise concerns.

Gartner is a member of a Lyme-based climbing advocacy group, CLyme, that he said has been focused on finding “reasonable solutions” to concerns of both residents and climbers surrounding the issue.

MacKenzie said that Holt’s Ledge is home to peregrine falcons during their nesting season and several rare and endangered plants that “need to be protected.”

According to Gartner, the impact of the climbers on the environment has been exaggerated, and the issues brought up by the Selectboard have solutions that do not require removing the bolts.

He suggested prohibiting climbing during peregrine nesting season from March to August and creating “well-defined” paths and “no trespassing” signs to limit damage to private property.

Gartner said that CLyme also raised the issue of ownership of Holt’s Ledge and found evidence to suggest that Dartmouth, not Lyme, owns Holt’s Ledge.

“We went and looked at the deeds, and the deeds all show that the town does not own the land,” Gartner said.

MacKenzie said Lyme and Dartmouth were both conducting their own investigations into the question of ownership.

“We met with Dartmouth’s people and real-estate office, and we’re going to have to resolve that issue before we move ahead,” MacKenzie said. “In the meantime, the area will remain posted as the town of Lyme [in regard to ownership].”

Gartner said that CLyme will continue its efforts to disperse “good information” to decision-makers in Lyme and at Dartmouth.

“The people in this town really value the ability to go outside and enjoy the outdoors, just like most people in the Upper Valley, and like most Dartmouth students,” he said.

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