Skaha Bluffs access secured 

Partnership creates parking lot, preserves access to Okanagan climbing area.

click to enlarge To Have and Toe Hold Unusual partnership, between province, conservancy groups and private sector protects popular Okanagan climbing routes at Skaha Bluffs.
  • To Have and Toe Hold Unusual partnership, between province, conservancy groups and private sector protects popular Okanagan climbing routes at Skaha Bluffs.

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 bluffs.

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."

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