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Lyme Opts to Rescind Holt’s Ledge Ordinance After Records Show Dartmouth Owns Site

  • 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 Staff Writer
Published: 11/14/2018 12:01:28 AM
Modified: 11/14/2018 2:39:04 PM

Lyme — Officials in Lyme have rescinded rules that closed the once-popular rock climbing spot Holt’s Ledge, after learning the land actually is owned by Dartmouth College.

The Selectboard voted unanimously on Oct. 4 to rescind its ordinance regulating the ledge, according to meeting minutes.

While the town no longer governs recreation on Holt’s Ledge, the vote removes restrictions that also applied to a Lyme-owned parcel of land used to access the site, according to Selectboard Chairwoman Sue MacKenzie.

“It turns out that Dartmouth does in fact own the ledge, so it’s now their problem,” she said on Tuesday. “The ordinance was actually moot because we don’t own the ledge and we don’t legally control it.”

The town’s move comes nearly a year after Lyme residents voted, 143-74, during a special Town Meeting to cut the rock climbing bolts installed on Holt’s Ledge and continue restricting the public’s access. The site had been closed since 2016, when town officials say climbers had, without permission, drilled about 200 small bolts into the rock to create 27 climbing routes.

The officials said someone also had cut trees and built fire circles nearby, which climbers disputed.

In response, climbers formed the advocacy group CLyme, and attempted to make the case for keeping the bolts, which they say promoted safety and allowed climbers of all skill levels to enjoy the ledge.

The group drafted a proposal that sought compromise, calling for less intrusive trails to the ledge, better protections for wildlife and prohibitions on camping and fires. However, the management plan was rejected by town officials and Lyme’s voters.

CLyme also was the first to draw attention to documents from the Grafton County Registry of Deeds showing Dartmouth’s ownership of the property.

After talks with Lyme officials, the college assumed responsibility for Holt’s Ledge and reopened the climbing spot this summer, after the bolts were cut.

“Now that ownership of the ledge has been established, Dartmouth will manage the site consistent with the way it manages all of its outdoor recreational properties and has assigned administrative oversight to its Outdoor Programs Office,” college spokeswoman Diana Lawrence said in an email on Tuesday.

“Dartmouth expects visitors to mitigate their environmental impact, avoid disrupting natural wildlife, and stay on college property,” she added.

A notice on the college’s website says permission is required before any bolting of the rocks. It also asks that people “respect any notices from landowners and the town of Lyme.”

CLyme member John Gartner said he’s happy to hear of the town’s decision, but is frustrated at the time and process required to reopen the property. He also decried the rhetoric that surrounded the Holt’s Ledge debate.

“It just felt like the event was not one of people getting together to find a solution for everyone, but one of animosity and people taking sides and not listening to each other,” he said on Tuesday.

Gartner said that removal of the bolts means the ledge now is too difficult for most climbers. It’s nearly impossible to climb from the bottom up, so climbers must runs ropes from the top, which is sometimes dangerous because of loose rocks, he said.

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

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