SNECC started after Tim McGivern, a Massachusetts climber and now the SNECC chair, saw part of a local climbing area permanently destroyed and started wondering how to protect our other crags. Check out Tim’s full story below.
Some local climbing history
I started climbing back in 1997. My good friend Jeff Berg came back from an outdoor rock climbing class where he learned about basic climbing knots and the gear and skills needed for a successful top-rope outing. He showed his friends what he learned and it wasn’t long before our crew was making regular visits to places like Redrock and Stage Fort Park in Gloucester. We threw a top-rope on whatever cliff we found in the woods of Cape Ann. We learned that many of the routes could be climbed without a rope, so we started bouldering as well. Someone bought a copy of Boston Rocks (first edition) and we went through it page by page visiting all the spots. As the years went by, Jeff and I set our sights on bigger cliffs up north and west. We started buying trad gear and set out on epic trips to tick the classics within a few hours drive. When summer jobs were still part-time, I found myself taking trips to visit cliffs and boulders around the country. At the time, I was mostly interested in getting on classic trad routes, but I was also bouldering to not only train my body, but also my mind.
During the Summer of 2002, my climbing time became more limited than what I was used to. All of sudden I had this looming career I needed to land. Weekend trips became more spread out, and I started looking for more climbing closer to home. I heard from other climbers in Cape Ann that Lynn and Peabody had good climbing as well. I was familiar with Lynn Woods, but like many climbers, I wrote it off due to the lack of interest it was given in local guide books. I started exploring and bouldering on the rocks I came across in the park. I kept finding more and more rocks to climb on. I started exploring more of the surrounding woods outside the park, actively sought out more and more information about hidden bouldering spots in Cape Ann, and started tracking and documenting what I found. I soon realized that I had a lifetime of climbing within 45 minutes of my house, and most of it within 20 minutes. I began exploring more seriously.
Fast forward to 2007. I meet Jon Roberts, Rich Baker, and Darryl Leonard. We met up weekly that summer in the evenings after work and would go check out and climb on boulders that Jon found while riding his bike around Lynn Woods. I met other folks who climbed in the Woods as well, including “Iron” Pete Otis. Some of these folks knew about the other bouldering areas nearby that weren’t as friendly to climbers as Lynn Woods. One area in particular received more attention than others. Iron Pete, Bob Parrot, and others had been putting up classic lines here for years and called it the Promised Land. The common thing to say at the time was that the Promised Land has just as many boulders as Lynn Woods, but closer together. I started visiting and exploring. I was amazed at what I saw.
Life had plans for me though and I moved away. Before I left Massachusetts in 2008, I heard that a developer was trying to get a road through the Promised Land. At the time, I didn’t think it would actually happen. I had been working in land development for a few years at that point, so I thought I knew what I was talking about. The project did not look like it would make it through the regulatory hurdles and the opposition from the people who live around the property was strong.
I was wrong. When I returned in 2010, I heard the project was approved and construction had already begun.
The boulders you’ll never get to climb
Approximately one-third of the Promised Land was destroyed by the development. If I had to take a guess at the number of boulders and cliffs lost, I’d guess somewhere near two dozen. One boulder in particular known as the Dream Boulder was destroyed. My stomach churned at the thought of all this great climbing on high-quality granite being destroyed so a developer could squeeze in a bunch of ugly houses that the greater community did not want. I can’t blame the developer though. Most people don’t consider large boulders valuable. Another thing about the development is that it cut The Promised Land down the middle, so it is no longer a continuous piece of open space. It is now two areas separated by cookie-cutter houses on treeless roads.
The remaining two-thirds of the Promised Land is still there. It is mostly owned by a utility company and could be subject to the same fate. I had to do something. It seemed much of the old crew either moved away, passed away, or were busy finding boulders elsewhere. It didn’t take long for me to find the new crew that discovered the Promised Land on their own. The new pioneers. Climbers who were not only interested in climbing the existing lines, but walking a few hundred yards and putting up new ones.
This new crew is interested in mapping the new boulder and cliff locations. They are psyched on scrubbing new lines, finding new blocks, and repeating classics. Two folks in particular that joined me in this effort are Luis Gaviria and Dave Twardowski. Dave brought along his technological savvy and over the course of close to a year the three of us mapped out the boulders and cliffs in the Promised Land, coordinated it with the database of bouldering that had existed from the previous development pioneers (Pete Otis and Bob Parrot), and added a ton of new lines. Dave and I began to strategize on ways to preserve this incredible resource and the Promised Land Protection Project began.
I knew that this wasn’t the only climbing access related project in eastern Massachusetts. For example, Quincy Quarries suffers from extreme amounts of vandalism; parking and private ownership issues continue to persist in Cape Ann; development threatens classic boulders in Milford; graffiti is popping up near Redrocks in Gloucester; and Massachusetts still has not codified rock climbing as a recreational activity. The popularity of climbing is accelerating at a wild pace and I knew that I had the background and skills to do something positive for my community.
Who looks out for our crags?
In early 2017, I began asking the local climbing organizations the status of access in eastern Massachusetts. I began with the existing Local Climbing Organizations (LCOs), starting with the Cape Ann Climbers Coalition.
Cape Ann has a long climbing history. Our kind have savored that grey and red granite since the beginning of our sport. As many folks know, Cape Ann is chock full of climbing on bullet hard, high-quality granite. There is even deep water soloing, although riddled with access issues. Much of it is hard to find, has access issues, or is just not that popular. There is also a relatively small local climbing community who love their granite. A group of these climbers formed the Cape Ann Climbing Coalition (CACC) so they could speak as one voice to resolve issues that arose having to do with mostly trespassing, parking, and anchors. They have been successful with local access projects, without being a formal non-profit. They embraced the idea of another LCO to take on a larger region so that their projects will have more volunteers, better access to fundraising, and the resources of the Access Fund.
Next, I spoke with the Western Massachusetts Climbers’ Coalition (WMCC). The WMCC is at the other end of the spectrum as CACC when it comes to LCO’s. They are an established 501(c)(3) Non-Profit who successfully opened up climbing at Farley Ledges. The Farley access project is what led to the founding of WMCC, but they are active in preserving climbing areas throughout all of western Massachusetts. The regional purview that they took on did not include eastern Massachusetts for good reason. They gave their full support to the creation of an LCO to cover the crags and boulders on the other side of the state. Many of the climbers involved in WMCC have ties to crags around Boston, but there is so much for them to get done in western MA, that they could not responsibly take on the entire state. This made a lot of sense.
Then on to Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) Boston Mountaineering Committee to get their thoughts. AMC Boston is the oldest chapter of the organization. Most east coast climbers are familiar with what the AMC has done over the years. In my mind, they are the de facto climbing organization in the Boston area and are the historic stewards of our local crags. To be more specific, their Boston Mountaineering Committee (BMC) are the ones who take an interest in the local Boston crags. They hold clean-ups at Quincy Quarries, they have meet-ups during the week at places like Black and White Rocks and College Rock, and they have been the voice of Boston climbers for decades. As a local climber, I’m grateful for what they have accomplished over the years.
I did some research before going to speak with them, and it turns out that the first president of AMC, Frank Mason, practiced climbing with a group known as the “Peabody Boulderers”. It is very likely that Frank Mason himself climbed on and explored the Peabody granite throughout Lynn Woods and The Promised Land. I needed to get their thoughts. I told them my story and presented the idea of an LCO for the eastern portion of the state, and the reaction was positive. They agreed there is always a need for additional stewardship and for more opportunities to preserve climbing areas. It seems to me that establishing an LCO for the region will help the AMC Boston Mountaineering Committee focus on doing what they do best, and hopefully feel good about having a new organization taking on stewardship responsibilities.
I reached out to some other groups such as the climbing and mountaineering clubs at Harvard and MIT, but these organizations, while old and famous for climbing, are student clubs with transient populations. They have worked on access projects here and there for decades, but their mission is not preserving access to climbing in the region.
Soon I was discussing all this with the Access Fund. Then I started visiting gyms and online forums to see what other climbers thought. I knew that for a regional LCO to be viable in the long run there needed to be a good sized pool of volunteers who would be willing to give time, money or both. We took a look at a map of the climbing areas in the region and identified a concentrated region of climbing that was not covered by an LCO. Most of this region is within the 495 loop with outliers such as Crow Hill and Lincoln Woods. The climbing areas are generally small in size (with a few exceptions), are regional or local destinations (as opposed to national destinations), and are made up of lots of bouldering, small cliffs (below 100’) for top-roping or trad, and a handful of sport crags. All of these crags fall into this regional realm of the Boston/Providence metropolis.
What happens next?
Many of these areas have access issues. Some issues have been festering for decades (Quincy Quarries) and some are brand new. Some areas have no access issues at the moment, but will likely have them as the popularity of the sport increases. For example, if you visit Lincoln Woods on a good weather weekend, you’ll see packs of climbers moving from boulder to boulder. It has become a very popular spot and will continue to see an increase in the number of visiting climbers. At some point, they will need to deal with issues that come up from more people visiting from elsewhere. These issues are not new to the climbing world, so it makes a lot of sense to get ahead of them.
Since the early days of 2017, we’ve made some pretty good headway on this new LCO. SNECC is an all-volunteer organization and we all have other things going on in life so the momentum is slow but steady. In 2017 we focused on getting the word out to climbers, talking to climbers about what they want to see in an LCO, writing a good mission, and doing the things necessary to find the right people for a strong founding Board. We also managed to help organize a couple crag cleanups and tabled with the Access Fund at various gym events.
Going into 2018 we currently have about 200+/- climbers who are staying in touch either through the Google Group or the Facebook page and a Board of Directors of seven climbers local to the region. We receive a lot of help from the Access Fund and WMCC to make sure we set things up correctly right out of the gates. We intend to become an affiliated LCO with the Access Fund so climbers can have dual membership, and we also intend on applying for 501(c)(3) non-profit status. We have a bunch of other great things lining up as well, including an outdoor bouldering competition at Lynn Woods to help showcase the access project for the Promised Land. It will be a lot of fun!
If you want to get involved or stay up-to-date on our progress, you have some options:
Join the Google Group
Like the Facebook Page
Or shoot over an email with questions!