Climbers Partner with City to Open New Duluth Ice Park

A forgotten old quarry in east Minnesota, suffering from dumping and vandalism, is about to be revitalized into a destination ice park. For nearly three decades, climbers have been visiting Casket Quarry, located within the city limits of Duluth, to climb the handful of ice lines on its steep walls. Local climbers Mike Dahlberg, James Loveridge, and Adam Daly have established new challenging mixed lines in the last 10 years, making it a worthy spot to climb, even during a dry Minnesota winter. Local climbers have done their part to keep the area clean. Yet access remained uncertain, because the quarry sat on both private and county tax-forfeited land.

Then in 2014, the City of Duluth teamed up with Minnesota Land Trust to revitalize the St. Louis River corridor through the city’s new “half and half” tax—$18 million in revenue specifically allocated to create and enhance recreational opportunities in the region. Local climbers recognized this as an opportunity and quickly organized the Duluth Climbers Coalition (DCC) and submitted a proposal to the city for developing the quarry into the West Duluth Ice Park—a city park with ice farming infrastructure that would turn the modest quarry into an ice climbing destination.

“Climbers envision a protected green space around the quarry that will be utilized by hikers, mountain bikers, picnickers, dog-walkers, and others attracted to the rock amphitheater’s unique environment and expansive vistas,” says DCC Board Member Dave Pagel. “In winter, when spectacular ice formations form on the quarry walls, the park will be a destination-quality venue for ice and mixed climbing.”

DCC garnered support from Access Fund and worked with the city to advocate for the ice park. Earlier this year, the city unanimously approved the proposed climbing park. “We need to encourage people to get outside,” says Minnesota Land Trust Executive Director Kris Larson. “If our next generation doesn’t spend time outdoors, they’re not going to care what happens to natural areas.”

In the two-phased proposal, the city will acquire the private and county land where the quarry is located, improve the existing parking lot, and establish trails in and around the quarry. Access Fund awarded matching funds to help the city acquire the west side of the quarry and sent the Access Fund–Jeep® Conservation Team out to assist with trail planning.

The second phase is to install ice farming infrastructure on undeveloped, shorter, and lower-angled sections of cliff, thereby expanding the climbing opportunities for intermediate and beginner climbers. DCC will operate and manage the ice farming system. Hansi Johnson, director of recreation lands for the land trust, is shepherding the process and working with mountain bikers, climbers, crosscountry skiers, and paddlers across the region to mobilize.

“Transforming the quarry into the West Duluth Ice Park is one of the key projects to unite recreation, conservation, and economic development in the region,” says Hansi. Access Fund worked with DCC and the city to address concerns related to liability and management of the park, illustrating to the city that DCC has the full support of the national climbing advocacy organization. DCC also has been working with Minnesota Climbers Association (MCA) to learn about how MCA partners with the city to manage the Sandstone Ice Park.

Congratulations to DCC, the City of Duluth, and the Minnesota Land Trust for partnering to protect and promote climbing and recreation in their region.

Photo courtesy of Hansi Johnson