Ohio Climbers’ Big Score: Mad River Gorge

Just outside Springfield, Ohio, the Mad River meanders below a series of pristine limestone cliff bands, likely the tallest in the state. A popular climbing area in the 80s and 90s, Mad River Gorge (then known as Springfield Gorge) was shut down over 20 years ago after a climbing accident led to landowner concerns about liability. The area has been closed to climbing ever since.

Photo courtesy of © Ben Berg.

Two years ago, the Clark County Parks Division received a grant to purchase the bulk of the property in the gorge from private landowners. Ohio Climbers Coalition (OCC) immediately reached out and began discussing the opportunity of reopening climbing and creating a new climbing park that could be a huge economic draw to the area.

Access Fund worked with OCC to address Clark County’s concerns regarding liability, trail construction, and bolt maintenance, and the two organizations worked together to draft a climbing management plan that alleviated many of the county’s concerns. With a solid climbing management plan, Clark County quickly embraced the idea of keeping climbers local, as opposed to sending them off to the Red River Gorge or other destinations.

While the county had officially approved climbing at the new Mad River Gorge & Nature Preserve, the land had been neglected for years. Huge trash piles were strewn about the cliff bases, invasive plants had taken over the cliff tops, and there wasn’t a single foot of sustainable access trail on the property.

Ohio Climbers Coalition, Access Fund, and the local climbing community got to work stewarding this new local treasure. Last year, the Access Fund–Jeep Conservation Team and OCC volunteers spent a long weekend constructing a new entrance staircase and creating a stewardship plan for the entire area.

Then in May of this year, OCC recruited more than 200 volunteers—including climbers and members of the local community—to clean up the park. With help from a crane operator, volunteers were able to remove 125,000 pounds of trash (including over 200 tires, old refrigerators, and a car body) while the Conservation Team led several groups to complete the access staircase, improve trails, and remove invasive plants.

Ohio Climbers Coalition deserves a huge ovation for their efforts and collaborative spirit in seeing Mad River Gorge & Nature Preserve refreshed and officially opened to climbing. The entire Ohio climbing community will benefit from the partnership created between OCC and Clark County Parks Division, a reminder to us all of what can be accomplished when we work together. The Mad River Gorge & Nature Preserve was officially opened to climbing on May 21, 2017.