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Grant helps establish regional climbing group

With an emphasis on being good stewards of the land and trails, LeTourneau said they need to educate climbers on leave no trace ethics — a practice that emphasizes the value of picking up trash and leaving the place as if you were never there.

At the top
Jeremiah LeTourneau stands atop a formation in the Bugaboo Mountain range in Canada during a recent excursion.
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WORTHINGTON — A group of regional rock climbing enthusiasts was awarded a $2,300 grant from Access Fund and Backcountry last week to develop and promote the Great Plains Climbing Coalition, a newly created nonprofit organization serving the tri-state area.

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Based in eastern South Dakota, the Great Plains Climbing Coalition formed to educate new climbers and improve climbing opportunities there, as well as in southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa. Worthington rock climber Jeremiah LeTourneau is one of the group’s founding members.

Since May, he and others in two separate Sioux Falls-area climbing groups came together to look at areas in the region that could be more accessible to climbers. Already, Sioux Falls is home to two gyms that offer indoor climbing, but the group realized more education was needed when new climbers take the indoor sport outdoors.

Scaling a wall
Jeremy LeTourneau uses tools as he scales a rock face.
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With an emphasis on being good stewards of the land and trails, LeTourneau said they need to educate climbers on leave no trace ethics — a practice that emphasizes the value of picking up trash and leaving the place as if you were never there.

There is also much work to do to create a good experience for climbers, such as establishing sustainable trails systems, belay pads, and areas around crags that can handle the influx of climbers as it gains popularity.

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Adventures at Yosemite
Jeremiah LeTourneau (right), poses with a friend during their trip to Yosemite, California to do some climbing.
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“Blue Mounds (State Park) and Palisades (State Park) are not very accessible for new climbers to start at,” said LeTourneau. “Also, a lot of new climbers aren’t aware of trail building, (sustainability), leaving no trace so that 50 years from now it would still be able to handle the influx of climbers.”

The newly formed coalition began with 16 to 20 active climbers from throughout the region. LeTourneau said they reached out to the Black Hills Climbing Coalition initially for assistance, but that group is so busy with its own projects in western South Dakota that it didn’t have the time to address climbing needs along the state’s eastern border.

“They were unaware of all these extra areas that we had found on the eastern side,” said LeTourneau, who has worked on a couple of crags and had friends working on others — some of which are located on private property.

In developing the coalition, the group will have a stronger voice in advocating for rock climbing, as well as a point of contact for new climbers in need of information.

California climbing
Jeremiah LeTourneau pauses for a photo after scaling a mountain in Yosemite, California.
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The grant dollars will be used to create a logo for the Great Plains Climbing Coalition, as well as a website (gpclimbers.com is still in development), to purchase tools for trail development, and to create a membership program that will ultimately raise funds to develop more spaces to climb.

With the grant boosting their momentum, LeTourneau said GPCC has planned two upcoming events to attract new climbers and educate those just starting to do outdoor climbing.

On Sept. 24, the group will host Get Hydrated from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Blue Mounds State Park.

“We’ll be there to help educate climbers on how to take care of things, ethics … things they just need education on,” LeTourneau said.

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The following day, on Sept. 25, they will host a work day, cleaning up some rock and clearing some trails at Palisades State Park during the same timeframe.

Taking a break
Jeremiah LeTourneau takes a break while visiting a new crag area in Kenora, Canada.
Special to The Globe

“Our climbing community is growing and really developing,” LeTourneau said, adding that the sport has become more mainstream now that it has become a competitive event in the Olympics.

In Worthington, the YMCA has a rock climbing wall thanks to a donation from Jay Milbrandt of Bedford Industries. That wall, and others like it in gyms across the region, are getting more people interested in the sport.

LeTourneau said several college campuses now have climbing walls as well, including Mankato, St. John’s and St. Olaf in Minnesota, North Dakota State University, South Dakota State University, and the University of South Dakota. Winona State University currently boasts one of the largest university climbing walls in the Midwest with nearly 6,000 square feet of climbing surface.

“Now people are going outside, but they don’t have the correct mentorship to climb outside,” he added.

The GPCC is currently working with a city on the Minnesota-South Dakota border to develop a sport crag. If the project comes together, it would be the first sport crag in a 3- to 4-hour radius.

LeTourneau sees the project as a perfect way to increase economic development for the region’s small towns.

“There are enough routes here to keep people around for a weekend,” he said. “They’d bring money to businesses, stay in hotels — exactly what you want in a small town.”

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Surrounded by beauty
Jeremy LeTourneau tosses a rope over a rock ledge while visiting a new crag in Kenora, Canada recently.
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The GPCC was one of 10 climbing organizations across the country to receive a grant from Access Fund, with the support of Backcountry. In all, $30,000 in climbing conservation grants was awarded during this round of funding.

“Every day, countless climbers walk across bridges, belay from stances, poop in pit toilets and park in lots funded by Access Fund climbing conservation grants,” shared Access Fund National Affiliate Director Jenna Winkler. “We’re proud to support projects across the country that protect and conserve the land, ensure sustainable access and build a community of climbing advocates.”

Since 1991, Access Fund has awarded more than $1.4 million in Climbing Conservation grants to support land conservation and protect climbing access.

For more information about GPCC, visit the group’s Facebook page at Great Plains Climbing Coalition.

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