Holy Boulders Permanently Protected!

During the Final Testament bouldering competition on November 2, the Illinois Climbers Association (ICA) made the final payment on the Holy Boulders property in Southern Illinois, permanently protecting this incredible climbing area. Access Fund purchased the Holy Boulders in 2012, using funds from its Climbing Conservation Loan Program (CCLP), to prevent the climbing area from being lost in private sale. Access Fund transferred ownership of the Holy Boulders to ICA in 2016 for long-term management.

The Holy Boulders is known for its Fontainebleau-like sandstone boulders, offering perfect friction and aesthetic lines. The area has long attracted pro climbers and weekend warriors alike from around the country. With over 350 developed problems, the Holy Boulders offers climbing for all abilities.

When the 80-acre family farmstead that was home to the Holy Boulders was put up for sale in 2012, Access Fund purchased the property using over $300,000 from the CCLP to prevent its indefinite closure.

“When For Sale signs went up, we knew we had to act quickly,” says Access Director Joe Sambataro with Access Fund. “At the time, the Holy Boulders were overgrown and covered in windfall from an old storm, but underneath was an incredible gem of a climbing area that needed to be protected for Midwest climbers.”

After taking ownership, Access Fund subdivided and sold adjacent farm lots, paying down $102,000 of the loan. The local climbing community stepped up to raise another $107,000 toward the project, including a grant from the Conservation Alliance and proceeds from the first few ICA annual bouldering competitions.

Jason Kehl on The Crooked Master at Holy Boulders, ancestral lands of the Osage, Miami, Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux) | Photo © Abbey Smith

The Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team made three visits to the Holy Boulders, working closely with ICA to improve the network of trails throughout the property.

In 2016, Access Fund transferred the remaining 46-acre Holy Boulders property to ICA for long-term ownership, and they assumed responsibility for the remaining $90,000 of the CCLP loan.

This spring, the final payment on the Holy Boulders loan was within ICA’s sight, and it began one last fundraising push—dubbed Written In Stone—offering contributors the opportunity to have their names engraved on a plaque to be displayed at the entrance to the Holy Boulders. Once again, the community answered the call and raised another $25,458 which was combined with proceeds from 2019 Final Testament competition, allowing ICA to pay off the loan a year early. Since the initial purchase in 2012, ICA has helped raised over $130,000 to protect the climbing area.

"It’s incredible to know that the Holy Boulders are secured forever,” says ICA President Phillip Carrier. "We're so grateful for the Climbing Conservation Loan Program and all the support we have received from Access Fund. A huge thanks to all our supporters and the community that has formed around these incredible boulders.”

Access Fund maintains a permanent conservation and recreation easement on the Holy Boulders property to fortify ICA's conservation of the area and provide critical support for any unexpected stewardship needs. The ICA is the eleventh organization to fully pay back their CCLP loan, returning funds to the revolving loan program where Access Fund will loan the money out again to save another threatened climbing area.

“We are proud of what the ICA has accomplished in taking on the final fundraising push and long-term management of the Holy Boulders,” says Sambataro. “Thanks to their early payment, Access Fund is able to support other local climbing organizations and communities when their local crag needs protection.”

The ICA will continue to fundraise for ongoing management, stewardship, and improvement projects at the Holy Boulders.