July 22, 2015. Boulder, CO – The Access Fund, the national advocacy organization that keeps climbing areas open and conserves the climbing environment, is pleased to announce that it has acquired 360 acres at the Homestead climbing area in central Arizona, in partnership with local climbing organizations and public land agencies. There is a long road ahead to permanent protection, and Access Fund needs the community’s help to save this incredible limestone climbing destination in the Arizona backcountry.
With over 250 sport climbs on 12 limestone walls, the area has attracted climbers for over two decades. “The Homestead offers unspoiled desert backcountry sport climbing within close proximity to both Phoenix and Tucson,” says longtime Phoenix climber Lucas Anaya of Concerned Climbers of Arizona. “Climbers from near and far are drawn to this canyon for its wide array of climbing styles, including long technical face climbs and a tufa wall that is unrivaled in America.”
The climbing at the Homestead, as well as the access point, is on a complex matrix of private, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and state trust land. For years, a rough and eroded road prevented even a standard sport utility vehicle from driving the 3-mile main access road to the canyon’s entrance, which winds its way through multiple parcels of ownership. In 2014, Bank of America foreclosed on the 1,687-acre Dripping Springs Ranch, which overlapped key portions of the access road, trailhead, and first few dozen routes of the Homestead. If sold to a non-climber-friendly buyer, access to the entire Homestead area, including the coveted walls on BLM land, could have been lost.
Access Fund began negotiations with the bank to purchase the 360-acre northern block of Dripping Springs Ranch and brought together a team of volunteers from the Arizona Mountaineering Club, Climbing Association of Southern Arizona, Concerned Climbers of Arizona, Queen Creek Coalition, and Southern Arizona Climbers Coalition to tackle the issues and determine a conservation strategy. “It was clear that a complex project like this would take the entire Arizona climbing community to band together,” says Access Fund Executive Director Brady Robinson. “Without their local support, the Access Fund could not take on this conservation project.”
“This is a home run for current and future generations of climbers,” says longtime Tucson climber Eric Fazio-Rhicard of Climbing Association of Southern Arizona. “The variety of climbing makes it a real gem—all in a beautiful slice of the Sonoran Desert.”
In addition to acquiring the 360 acres, Access Fund is also working with the BLM and State of Arizona to record a public right of way across state trust land and repair the most eroded portion of the road, a project expected to finish in the next year. The road also provides access to a key wildlife guzzler, a watering hole for native javelina, deer, and bighorn sheep. Adam Milnor, Public Affairs Specialist for the Gila BLM District states: “The BLM is supportive anytime a private group uses private funds to work towards legal access for public recreation on BLM lands—especially in an area with obvious conservation and recreational value like this one.”
Access Fund and partners are also working with another private landowner who owns a portion of the access road and corral camping area to determine options for permanent access. Discussions are still underway.
Access Fund will temporarily hold the properties, and our coalition of climbing organizations will fundraise and initiate stewardship improvements before transferring the holdings to a long-term climbing-friendly entity. Candidates for long-term ownership might include the BLM or a qualified land trust willing to permanently protect this recreational resource for the Arizona community. The project’s multiple phases will take 3-5 years to complete.
In order to temporarily secure the property, Access Fund utilized $152,000 of short-term financing from the Access Fund Climbing Conservation Loan Program to cover initial acquisition costs. Access Fund and its partners now need the community’s support to pay back this loan in order to revolve the capital toward other threatened US climbing areas. The Access Fund can’t complete the project without broad support from climbers, conservation partners, and the recreation community. Our coalition needs your help to raise $235,000 to cover critical costs for the acquisition, public right of ways, and estimated long-term stewardship improvements for protecting the Homestead for generations to come.
Donate at www.accessfund.org/homestead.
It is important to note that the access road crosses a matrix of private and public land and is currently impassable by standard vehicles. Access across the initial stretch of state trust land requires a state recreation permit, but a pending public right-of-way application will soon eliminate this need. For those without 4WD high clearance, the access road can be hiked in approximately an hour. The current access point may be modified in the near future to secure permanent and sustainable public access. Visit www.accessfund.org/homestead for further details, updates, and maps.
About the Access Fund
The Access Fund is the national advocacy organization that keeps climbing areas open and conserves the climbing environment. Founded in 1991, the Access Fund supports and represents millions of climbers nationwide in all forms of climbing: rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, and bouldering. Six core programs support the mission on national and local levels: climbing policy and advocacy, stewardship and conservation, local support and mobilization, land acquisition and protection, risk management and landowner support, and education. Since 1991, the Access Fund has supported 55 land acquisitions in partnership with land trusts, public entities, and local climbing organizations, totaling 15,943 acres across twenty seven states. For more information, visit www.accessfund.org.