Lyme — Voters in Lyme will soon have a say in determining the future of rock climbing at Holt’s Ledge.
At a special Town Meeting on Oct. 24, residents will be asked to choose: Allow the bolts that have made the ledge a popular rock-climbing destination to remain in place, or have the bolts sheared off to return the spot to a more natural state.
Climbing on the town-owned portion of Holt’s Ledge has been debated since disagreements between climbers and neighboring property owners came to a head in summer 2016.
In April of this year, town officials blocked access to ledge. They alleged tree limbs were cut, fire circles were built and, most importantly, climbing anchors were bored into the rock face without permission.
Additionally, residents of nearby Canaan Ledge Lane complained the climbers make too much noise and sometimes trespass on private property to access the ledge.
CLyme, a climbing group that submitted the petition to force this month’s Town Meeting, plans to hold an informational meeting near the Ledge on Wednesday.
“I think there has been a lot of misinformation about climbing generally and about Holt’s specifically,” Rebecca Hanissian, a steering committee member of CLyme, said on Sunday.
Climbing enthusiasts contend the metal bolts and hangers — which can aid ascent and arrest a fall — are vital safety features.
Removing the bolts, they have said, would make it nearly impossible for most climbers, especially younger ones, to climb at Holt’s Ledge.
When it closed access to the ledge in April, the Selectboard ordered that the bolts be cut and that the site remain closed until studies of the ledge’s flora and fauna were completed.
However, none of that work has been done.
“Since they filed a petition for a special Town Meeting, the Selectboard put everything on hold,” Selectboard member Sue MacKenzie said on Sunday.
It’s not clear to the Selectboard whether this month’s vote is binding, MacKenzie said, and the town’s legal counsel might be called in to make a determination.
“We’re concerned about the extra expense and the fact that we have to put all the election officials through an extra Town Meeting,” she said. “But this is democracy and they have the right to do it.”
Hanissian agreed that the bolts shouldn’t have been installed without permission. But the end result, she said, is a climbing area that can be utilized by different groups safely.
Children and novices can learn to climb at Holt’s Ledge because of the bolts, Hanissian said.
“We think it’s important that the town, as owners of the land, get to consider this recreational use,” she said.
In a post on its website, CLyme said the individuals who installed the bolts have since apologized and voluntarily offered to remove them. The group also “expressed great regret” that some dead trees were cut at the base of Holt’s Ledge.
“This will not happen again,” the post said, adding that, “climbers have not cut an access trail to the cliff.”
The post also sought to rebut claims that climbers are noisy, or camp and build fires at the ledge.
“Climbers are not vandals, they are our neighbors and friends,” the post said. “There is no evidence that climbers are involved in any of these activities.”
Earlier this year, CLyme proposed a management plan for Holt’s Ledge, and they’ve since revised and refined a proposal for the property, Hanissian said.
CLyme’s draft plan included a moratorium on fixed bolts, with any new or replacement bolts needing town approval. The climbing group also proposed prohibitions on camping, fires and music at the ledge.
Parking and access to the site would also change under the proposal, with climbers being instructed to park in the lot north of the Dartmouth Skiway and near the intersections of the Grafton Turnpike and Dorchester Road. From there, climbers would walk three quarters of a mile to a “Holt’s Ledge Trail,” which would be created under the oversight of the Lyme Conservation Commission.
Climbers could alternatively walk up the southern ski trail at Dartmouth Skiway to cross an easement on private land before accessing the town property.
Both hikes would take roughly 30 minutes, according to CLyme’s plan.
Under the plan, peregrine falcons would be protected through cooperation with New Hampshire Audubon, which would oversee seasonally closings of portions of the property.
CLyme has also expressed interest in developing a plan to protect plants on the ledge.
Town officials have declined to review the climbers’ proposal until after this month’s Town Meeting.
Members of the Selectboard instead said it was better to wait until after this month’s vote to discuss future access at Holt’s Ledge, according to minutes from the board’s Sept. 21 meeting.
MacKenzie reaffirmed that stance on Sunday.
The town has also rejected proposals to allow people to visit the ledge ahead of the upcoming vote. CLyme had made the request hoping limited tours of the property would help voters “better understand the resources and the issues,” according to the minutes.
“There was ample opportunity for people to go to this area prior to its closing,” the Selectboard wrote back to the climbing group. “The town does not have the time or the resources to facilitate a mass visit and the board is concerned about the disruption to the residents of this area.”
CLyme’s Holt’s Ledge information meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Lyme Center Academy Building, 183 Dorchester Road.
The special Town Meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Oct. 24 at the Lyme Community Gymnasium in the Lyme School.
Source : Valley News