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Lyme Residents Vote to Cut Holt’s Ledge Bolts

  • 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) —Maggie Cassidy

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/25/2017 12:13:12 AM
Modified: 10/27/2017 9:02:56 AM

Lyme — Residents voted on Tuesday night to cut the rock climbing bolts installed on Holt’s Ledge, to the dismay of climbers hoping to maintain the safety gear.

In a special Town Meeting vote at the Lyme School, residents sided with town officials and neighbors of the popular rock climbing spot. The tally was 143 to 74.

Concerns that continued use of the bolts would draw too much noise and traffic appear to have swayed voters. Proponents of cutting the bolts said the action would help return the area to its roots as a quiet, traditional climbing destination. Removing the bolts, which aid climbers, will make it significantly more difficult to ascend.

“None of us are opposed to climbing at Holt’s Ledge,” said Tara McGovern, whose house abuts the property on Canaan Ledge Lane. “We’re not saying that nobody could climb at Holt’s Ledge.”

Tuesday’s vote is the culmination of a monthslong debate over how climbers interact with neighbors and Holt’s Ledge itself.

Last summer, town officials ordered the area closed after they discovered climbers had — without permission — drilled roughly 200 small bolts into the rock to create 27 climbing routes.

About 40 trees also were cut and several fire circles were built in the vicinity, according to the town. Neighbors complained too, reporting climbers made too much noise and sometimes trespassed on private property to access the site.

The Selectboard cited those concerns when they voted in April to remove the bolts. Climbers protested, saying the safety features made the ledge accessible for novice climbers.

“These climbs are very dangerous without these bolts,” said Rebecca Hanissian, a member of CLyme, a climbing advocacy group.

Area climbers formed CLyme in an attempt to forge a compromise that would keep the bolts while also mitigating potential negative impacts. They drafted a proposed management plan calling for less intrusive trails to the ledge, protections for wildlife and prohibitions on camping and fires.

CLyme members petitioned for Tuesday’s special Town Meeting, hoping it could help reach a resolution. Hanissian said she learned to climb as a child, calling it a “transformative experience” that later led to her 13-year career as a climbing coach.

“I would like to try to afford other children of Lyme that same opportunity and experience,” she told the more than 230 people gathered in the Lyme School gymnasium.

“When I learned that these routes had been bolted without permission, I was really angry and surprised,” Hanissian said. “I feel strongly about the promise of these routes for the community.”

Lyme resident Matthew Prince also was hesitant to vote for the bolts’ removal, saying his three-year-old daughter someday might want to climb at Holt’s. He said the issue was “calling out for compromise” to preserve what could be a valuable resource.

“Once we cut those bolts, we can never go back,” Prince said.

However, those views were opposed by neighbors of the property, who said they often were contending with buses and vans dropping off as many as 80 climbers a day during the busy summer season.

Town officials have not yet said when the bolts will be cut.

Also up for debate was whether the town has jurisdiction over the property. CLyme says it recently unearthed documents in the Grafton County Registry of Deeds that could throw Lyme’s regulation of Holt’s Ledge into question.

Several recorded deeds and a 1997 survey of the property show it’s actually owned by Dartmouth College instead of the town, according to CLyme. The Selectboard appeared to be using an incorrect tax map when it closed the property, the climbers said.

That view was backed up on Tuesday by Colin Robinson, an estate attorney in Lyme, who said it wouldn’t be difficult for the college to obtain title insurance.

But town officials countered that they had the title, and pointed to boundaries drawn in the 19th century as proof.

“As far as we’re concerned, the town of Lyme owns the ledge and we will be meeting with officials at Dartmouth soon,” Selectboard member Sue MacKenzie said before the meeting.

Dartmouth spokeswoman Diana Lawrence also said on Tuesday the college is “researching the title issue.”

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

Valley News

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