CMC Boulder Group Helps Save Iconic Thumb and Needle

Partnered with the Access Fund, the Colorado Mountain Club Boulder Group aided in the purchase and future development of the Thumb and Needle Spires, a historic climbing area located in the town of Estes Park.

“This one was one everyone was really excited about across the board,” Chris Bamat, the CMC Boulder Group Conservation Chair said. “I think being able to help save public lands is a big passion for me as well as the rest of council and our members overall.”

The Boulder Group allocates a set amount of money each year for small grants. The group raised $2,500 for the cause, which was matched 3:1 by the Access Fund. The fundraising went toward Access Fund’s $50,000 project goal and the $709,000 total price tag. The Town of Estes Park, the Estes Valley Land Trust, Great Outdoors Colorado, and the Rocky Mountain Conservancy also contributed to the balance.

The 65-acre area, previously privately owned, is now public land and will be preserved as Thumb Open Space. The property, with uninterrupted views of Longs Peak and Mount Meeker, will boast almost 50 climbing routes beginning at 5.0 all the way up to 5.13, as well as bouldering opportunities. 

Although the existing trail is open to the public, the property is not currently open for climbing. Climbing is expected to open the summer of 2022 after a management plan is completed.

The project is going to be done the right way, former Boulder CMC Conservation Chair Gary Johnston said, who helped set the conservation grant in motion in 2020.

“It seemed like we had substantial grants to give out every year and that had kind of gone by the wayside, so I wanted to revive that to help enhance recreational opportunities and conservation within our local Boulder area,” Johnston said.

The mission of Access Fund is to provide access to climbing areas by purchasing or facilitating the purchase or protection of private land. Development Director Scott Dissel said the organization is always looking across the country to find areas where they can open up new areas or protect existing climbing.

The property came onto Access Fund’s radar six or eight years ago, Dissel said. These types of projects can take a great deal of time. The organization was drawn to the area not only for its location, but also its history.

American mountaineer Tom Hornbein completed a number of first ascents in the late 1940s on the property. Tommy Caldwell would later follow, using the features of the Thumb and Needle to train. 

After many years of conversation and negotiation the purchase of the space was finalized on May 26.

“The purchase ensures the property will remain undeveloped and open for wildlife and future public access after completion of a scientifically developed and community-driven management plan,” the Town of Estes Park stated.

Several sections of the existing Thumb Rock Trail that will provide future access to the climbing areas are experiencing erosion and are deteriorating. The management plan will include stewardship and additional trail building expected to be completed within the next 12 months.

“That is specifically what the CMC Boulder Group funded,” Dissel said. “It was the stewardship and the trail building, which was part of a much much bigger effort, an important effort to protect the property and create access.” 

CMC Boulder Group Funds are needed to ensure that, once purchased, this private land can become a sustainable recreational resource for residents of the area, and visitors from the Front Range and beyond, the proposal stated. 

“My take is we were one arm of a big coalition and just happy to help make this happen,” Johnston said.

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