Holy Boulders, located in Jackson County, is considered by many rock climbers to be the premier bouldering location in southern Illinois. Imagine the excitement, then, when Access Fund and the Illinois Climbers Association (ICA) were able to purchase House Boulders, a new bouldering area and conservation corridor adjacent to the blessed hot spot.
“The quality of what’s there is on the same scale as Holy Boulders. It’s pretty exceptional,” said Phillip Carrier, president of the ICA. “We’re trying to put the pieces together of all the potential of the area. This was an opportunity to do that.”
The House Boulders climbing area sits on the western edge of the Shawnee National Forest in the Mississippi Bluffs region, named for its stunning views over the Mississippi River valley. This acquisition conserves 20 acres of land, which has the potential for approximately 75 to 100 boulder problems at all levels.
House Boulders stands alone in its unique setting — a tightly stacked boulder field on a steep, west-facing hillside nestled among hardwoods. It shares the same high-quality, fine-grained gray sandstone as Holy Boulders and, importantly, offers the space needed to build an on-site parking lot.
While a handful of people have climbed on the property with landowner permission in the past, this purchase secures permanent climbing access for all. In the fall of 2020, ICA heard that the property was up for sale, and after connecting with the landowner, it reached out to Access Fund for financial backing through the Climbing Conservation Loan Program (CCLP). With Access Fund’s support, the ICA was able to buy the property for recreation and conservation.
“We are committed to conserving climbing in Illinois,” said Carrier. “And we’re proud that this purchase allows climbers in the Midwest and beyond to play a critical role in preserving not only their climbing future, but also the health of the land.”
In Good Company
The House Boulders area sits next to an Illinois Land and Water Reserve and just north of Clear Springs and Bald Knob Wilderness, together encompassing over 10,700 acres of protected state and federal land. Native biodiversity of the landscape is tremendous and includes habitat for state-threatened or state-endangered species.
Within the area, a natural phenomenon occurs biannually when dozens of species of reptiles and amphibians migrate between lower elevation habitat and higher-elevation drier slopes for hibernation. The House Boulders acquisition adds to this corridor of protected land.
House Boulders also sits within an economically depressed region, with Jackson County having the highest poverty rate in Illinois at 25 percent. The purchase will help bolster the growing outdoor recreation and tourism economy in southern Illinois, adding another recreational resource that will draw more visitors to the region to discover the rich beauty of the area. When visitors come to climb, they will find dozens of wineries, breweries, cabin rentals, and amenities to support and enrich their stay.
House Boulders is the ICA’s second land acquisition, the first being the Holy Boulders transfer from Access Fund in 2016. House Boulders is the 33rd climbing area conserved through Access Fund’s CCLP.
The ICA will fundraise to repay the conservation loan over time, returning money to help Access Fund save another new or threatened climbing area in the future. Since the CCLP’s inception, Access Fund has loaned nearly $3.3 million to protect more than 4,000 acres and more than 5,000 climbing routes, at an overall value of $7.5 million.
While initial funding has secured House Boulders, the ICA needs the help of local climbers and conservationists to raise $80,000 over the next three years to pay off the conservation loans and complete the purchase.
The ICA has already begun its fundraising through the return of its annual competition, Holy Boulders: The Pilgrimage, which took place on November 6, 2021. The competition brought together more than 300 climbers from across the country and raised over $25,000. Carrier says the event is scheduled to return in November 2022.
“We won’t have official public access [into the House Boulders area] until we get a parking lot put in there,” Carrier said. “The infrastructure isn’t there yet, the parking and the trails, but we expect that to be done by next fall.”
Sharing is Caring
To find more information about House Boulders and to donate to the project directly, visit the Illinois Climbers Association (ICA) website at ilclimbers.org/houseboulders.
Top Image: Illinois Climbers Association board member Kevin Sierzega at House Boulders. (Kevin Sierzega)