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Lyme Keeps Holt’s Ledge Closed

  • An aerial photograph facing west shows Holt's Ledge in Lyme, N.H., with town-owned property to the south of orange fencing that runs along a Dartmouth Skiway trail. In the foreground are homes on Canaan Ledge Lane. (Tim Chow photograph)

Valley News Correspondent
Published: 1/17/2017 12:20:25 AM
Modified: 1/17/2017 2:29:41 PM

Lyme —  Rock climbers and other residents won’t be allowed back on the town-owned portion of the Holt’s Ledge climbing area anytime soon.

The Lyme Selectboard has decided not to bring a proposed ordinance and management plan to Town Meeting in March, meaning Holt’s Ledge will remain posted for the time being against trespassing, as it has been since August. 

About 30 people attended a public hearing about the draft ordinance last week.

Selectman Jay Smith, who has been leading the Selectboard investigation into reported damages, trespassing and noise complaints near the site, and the effort to craft the resulting ordinance, said he hopes the information and perspectives gathered at the hearing can be processed slowly by the board, in order to formulate the most effective solutions possible.

There are also concerns that peregrine falcon nesting areas on the ledge have been threatened.

Smith does not want to rush any decisions, and was unable to say whether the ordinance might be changed or remain the same.

“We heard from all sides. It’s a difficult situation,” Selectboard Chairwoman Sue MacKenzie said.

The ordinance, which in its current form would place a moratorium on new fixed routes and bolting of the rock face, among other measures, will not be a part of the upcoming Town Meeting, both Smith and MacKenzie confirmed. Until a draft of the ordinance is made official, the land will remain posted.

Tara McGovern, who lives near the site, was one of the more active participants at the hearing.

“We live at the top of Canaan Ledge Lane. Our house is the closest house to the climbing area” she said later. “And before Holt’s Ledge was bolted, we never had any issues.”

McGovern is a climber herself, along with her husband, and she places a distinction between traditional climbing and sport climbing, which she says uses more fixed protection, like bolts, and requires less skill. After the increase in bolting and sport climbing the last few years, she found not only that people crossed her land to access the cliff, but that some used loud “foul language” and even “ignored closures intended to protect nesting peregrine falcons,” according to a public email on the town listserv, which she said corresponded closely with her testimony at the hearing.

McGovern preferred not to comment further on the specifics, but said that she had spoken in person with one individual from out of state, parked in her driveway, who had played a large role in bolting the ledge, and asked him to stop. After their interaction, McGovern said he continued to insert bolts into the rock face, and traffic at the site continued to increase.

McGovern said she hopes the town will change the ordinance to include the disabling of existing bolts, so that it does not reward illegal behavior. Traditional climbing, she said, is what neighbors expected when they bought abutting land, and it is what is most appropriate for the property.

One of the climbers hoping to reopen the cliff, Lyme resident Greg Hanlon, doubled down on his support for the current draft ordinance.

“It’s a very thoughtful document,” he said. “It really does recognize the value of the place, and makes an attempt to manage it, control its further development, and protect it. For both climbing, and peregrine falcons, and neighbors, I think it’s a reasonable document.”

Holt’s Ledge, which has an elevation of about 2,100 feet, is near the Dartmouth Skiway. A portion of Holt’s Ledge which is owned by Dartmouth College and is accessed via trails at the Skiway, remains open for students to practice ice climbing.

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