MDC opens first public outdoor rock-climbing bluff in St. Louis area at Rockwoods Reservation

News from the region
Published Date
11/30/2021
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WILDWOOD, Mo.—The rock-climbing community has a new destination for outdoor climbing located not hours away, but close to home in St. Louis County on Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Rockwoods Reservation.

MDC held the official opening Nov. 19 for its new rock climbing bluff on Rockwoods Reservation Conservation Area in Wildwood. Present at the opening and ribbon cutting were representatives from MDC, BETA Fund, the City of Wildwood, and the St. Louis County Police Department. The Missouri Department of Transportation is also a key partner in supporting the site.

The climbing routes were developed in partnership with the BETA Fund, a local organization of rock-climbing enthusiasts whose mission is to protect and conserve outdoor resources in the Midwest for recreational rock climbing. 

The climbing bluff is the first such facility to be offered on an MDC area in the state. “We’re exploring different activities that will work well with our public lands to get people into nature-based recreation,” said MDC Statewide Recreational Use Coordinator, Amy Buechler.  “St. Louis has a number of rock-climbing gyms that are indoors, but this is a place outdoors that climbers can go to use those skills.”

The bluff’s proximity is a real boon to area climbers.  “It’s a significant game changer for the climbing community,” said Kevin McCarthy, president of BETA Fund. “This is the closest outdoor climbing to all the residents in this area. The typical drive time to an outdoor climbing area from St. Louis has been anywhere an hour-and-a-half to six hours.”

Local rock climbers, Jacob Alspaw and Michael Kasper, arrived during the opening to try the new climbing experience. The two met and became climbing buddies in college.

“From where we live this is an afternoon trip, rather than a day trip. You can come out here for an afternoon and that can be your work out for the day,” said Alspaw.  “We’re excited to try it out for the first time.”

“This is really great access for all of St. Louis,” said Kasper.  “You don’t have to hike far to get to it once you’re here either.  We’re really happy to just pop up this hill and be climbing.”  Kasper also said that rock climbers would likely use the bluff year-round.

The bluff was part of a former quarry before MDC purchased the land.  The rock quarry operations on the site date back to the 1800s. People have wanted to rock climb at this location for many years and MDC is now able to open the bluff thanks to the partnership with the BETA Fund. 

The rock-climbing group used their expertise and volunteers to plan and prepare the site.  McCarthy explained the first step in prepping the site was to clean the routes, using crowbars to pull out loose rocks.  BETA Fund members then created climbing routes by drilling holes and installing stainless steel wave bolts designed especially for climbing. These bolts were hammered in with an epoxy that binds the metal securely into the rock. The group has established 15 lines so far, consisting of mostly vertical routes.  With the first climbing zone complete and open, BETA Fund is now working to install a second zone of additional routes for future use.

McCarthy, an avid climber himself, said there’s a strong appeal to climbing that converges with nature. “It’s an intuitive thing that the human body wants to do.  It’s really primal and it’s really fun.  While you’re climbing, you’re also experiencing birds, wildlife, plants, and trees.  It’s just that whole immersive experience.”

The trailhead to the rock climbing bluff is located just off Highway 109 on Christy Road, approximately one half mile north of the main entrance to Rockwoods Reservation.  The trail to the rock wall is a quarter mile walk, mostly uphill, on a natural surface path.  Visitors should note that parking is limited, so carpooling is recommended whenever possible.  Climbing is self-guided and at the participant’s own risk. Climbers must have appropriate experience, equipment, and assistance. 

For more information about Rockwoods Reservation, go to https://short.mdc.mo.gov/ZtH.  To learn more about rock climbing, visit the BETA Fund website.  Or view the MDC video at https://youtu.be/xnPDSGhMq1s.