Castlegar’s treasured Waterline bluffs remain accessible to all
Hanging above a stomach-lurching drop, a West Kootenay rock climber quickly flows from one ledge to the next. Her partner, anchored to the wall, feeds out the rope as she safely and fluidly ascends the most widely used crag in the Basin: Castlegar’s Waterline climbing area.
Now, a partnership between the Association of West Kootenay Rock Climbers (TAWKROC) and the Trust has secured and protected public access to this popular outdoor recreation and urban wilderness area.
The climbing community is rejoicing that the easily accessible bluffs—with over 70 routes and grades to choose from—remains open, following a two-year community project spurred into action when the land was closed to public access and listed for sale. Fortunately, in 2018 two dedicated climbers purchased the approximately 11 acres to preserve and protect it from future development. But due to financial and liability concerns, the pair ended up getting the City of Castlegar to subdivide the property, located just 10 minutes from downtown and still within city limits, so they could sell the climbing walls and trails to TAWKROC.
“In an era where more lands are becoming privately owned and developed, there’s a need to preserve green spaces within our communities,” says TAWKROC President Ian McDonald.
A climber for the past 17 years, McDonald is firmly tied to a community and culture that feels much like a family. Working together to reach places only climbers can get to instills trust, strong bonds and an unspoken respect that echoes across the landscape.
“When you’re climbing, you’re always connected to at least one person at the other end of the rope; that connection with your belayer is vital,” he adds. “There are endless ways to challenge yourself, be it physically, mentally or technically.”
TAWKROC is a non-profit society whose mission is to encourage and promote the preservation of public access to rock climbing sites in the West Kootenay. It’s committed to environmentally sustainable methods when it comes to overseeing site use and maintaining and improving the sites. A grant from the Trust added to funds raised by various individuals and organizations to enable it to acquire the Waterline’s high-quality rock climbing cliffs.
McDonald is one of 130 active members, supported by over 1,100 followers on the Kootenay Climbing Facebook page. While everyone is thrilled to have secured funding from the Trust to finalize the sale of the property, the good news comes at a challenging time for the association.
“COVID-19 has severely impacted our ability to fundraise, which is essential to operating and maintaining the properties we own,” explains McDonald, adding that promoting membership is more important than ever before.
In 2020, the group was forced to reconsider its most significant annual fundraising initiative, the Kootenay Climbing Festival, which was set to feature special guest and rock climbing legend Peter Croft. Despite the pandemic, a core group gathered in July to hoist signage and climb the walls in a quiet and physically distanced celebration.
However, TAWKROC still plans to ascend toward its goals, such as installing a kiosk that provides information to climbers and recognizes donors. In the future, it’s also considering installing a composting toilet, as well as working with the City of Castlegar and other interest groups to create city parks at Kinnaird Bluffs—a property the association purchased in 2016—and at the Waterline.
“Thanks to the Trust and other generous donors, public access to this amazing recreational area will remain,” says McDonald. “It’s not possible to build another resource like this when you lose access; it’s non-replaceable. We’re happy it’s been secured for generations to come.”