For decades, access uncertainties prevented Casket Quarry from being developed to its full potential as a recreational venue. In 2014, the Duluth Climbers Coalition submitted a proposal to the City of Duluth for developing this incredible resource as city parkland (Quarry Park) with a climbing component. This proposal was accepted as part of the St. Louis River Corridor Initiative, a comprehensive slate of exciting outdoor recreation projects (hiking, biking, XC skiing, etc.) seeking funding through Duluth’s ½ and ½ tax—revenue specifically allocated for creating and enhancing recreational opportunities in the St. Louis River corridor. The overall goals of the initiative are to support the natural environment, enrich neighborhood quality of life, attract new home buyers, establish new visitor destinations and stimulate appropriate development.
How did Casket Quarry get its macabre name?
Find out here.
The initial part of the two-phase climbing park proposal looked to secure access to Casket Quarry by having the city acquire the private and county land where the quarry is located, improve the existing parking lot and establish trails in and around the quarry. The second phase is for ice farming infrastructure on undeveloped, shorter, and lower-angled sections of cliff that will expand the climbing opportunities for intermediate and beginning climbers. The proposed ice farming system will be operated and managed by the Duluth Climbers Coalition.
In 2015, the Duluth City Council voted unanimously to support all the St. Louis River Corridor Initiative projects, including the proposed climbing park. Acquisition of the quarry by the City was accomplished in late 2015 (supported by a grant from the Access Fund). The mini-master planning process for the proposed park commenced in early 2016. The mini-master plan includes a significant climbing component, including ice farming. In May, 2016, the Duluth City Council voted unanimously to approve the plan and dedicate the property as Quarry Park. Since that time, the DCC has worked to develop and improve trails at the park, and to locate the century-old city water connection that originally supplied the quarrying operation. In 2017, this water line was unearthed—a critical step forward for ice farming. Currently, the DCC is engaged in developing climbing and site management agreements with the City and securing construction permits. Thanks to generous gifts and grants from Loll Designs, REI Co-op, and numerous other businesses and individuals, the project has been funded and construction is slated to begin in summer, 2019.
Quarry Park: An Inclusive Vision
The key word is “park.” Climbers envision a protected green space around Casket Quarry that will be utilized by hikers, mountain bikers, picnickers, dog-walkers, and others attracted to the rock amphitheater’s unique environment and expansive vistas. In winter, when spectacular ice formations form on the quarry walls, the park will be a destination-quality venue for ice and mixed climbing.
An Enhanced Resource
Ice “farming”—creating ice on previously dry sections of cliff—is a process that has been used worldwide to enhance ice formation in cold climates. The climbing park proposal includes infrastructure for creating new ice at Casket Quarry that will supplement the natural formations and expand climbing possibilities, including more moderate terrain for beginning ice climbers and introductory classes. This technique is currently being used successfully at a city quarry in Sandstone, Minnesota, where farmed ice regularly draws scores of winter climbers from the Twin Cities, Duluth, and beyond. The city of Winona in southeastern Minnesota has also established a city-owned ice Park with ice farming. By virtue of Casket Quarry’s size and mixed climbing assets, it has the potential to attract climbers on a national level.
A Neighborhood Asset
For years, this relatively secluded location was plagued by undesirable activity: dumping, vandalism, teenager parties, etc. One benefit of cleaning up the quarry and developing it into public space for diverse forms of legitimate outdoor recreation has been to discourage these negative behaviors. As a result, the neighborhoods around Casket Quarry are enjoying relief and rejuvenation. To the same end, centralized parking for Quarry Park has been established well away from public streets and private homes.
A Winter “Fest” Venue!
A city-owned ice climbing park in West Duluth creates an exciting opportunity: the ideal venue for a local Icefest. Icefests are events that draw climbers from far-and-wide for a weekend of climbing, socializing, speakers, prizes, and how-to clinics. Regional Icefests are held each year in Sandstone, Minnesota, in Munising, Michigan, and in Nipigon, Ontario, where they bring climbers together and generate welcome revenue for local businesses. Located within this geographic triangle, the accessible, concentrated, quality climbing at Quarry Park provides a perfect venue for the Duluth Ice & Mixed Fest! In addition, the broad amphitheater offers diverse opportunities for other forms of winter adventure and recreation (snowshoeing, fat-tire biking, disc golfing)—activities offered as part of the Duluth Ice & Mixed Fest—making this a true winter “fest” celebration for all outdoor enthusiasts.