By Nicholas Love | November 10, 2015
The massive, overhanging 80ft wall of Corbin Sandstone looked like a wave crashing down on the forest below, where I stood. This was Midnight Surf, a crag in the Red River Gorge, not only was I impressed by its size but it was one of the most beautiful climbing areas I had ever seen. The friends that I made at my local gym, Hoosier Heights Indianapolis, were psyched on sport climbing and went down to the Red to climb whenever they could. I tagged along one weekend and our first stop was Muir Valley. Within its 360 acres alone, there are seven miles of cliffs ranging from 20 to 200 feet in height.
During this trip, I quickly learned about a sweet couple in the parking lot named Rick & Liz Weber who owned the property. The hard work of the Webers and their volunteers to create a safe climbing area while continuing to protect the surrounding environment doesn’t go unnoticed. Until this day, I haven’t been to an outdoor climbing area so well-maintained and organized like Muir Valley. They’ve constructed bathrooms, guidebooks, trails, and even placed safety radios near the crags.
The Webers purchased the property in 2004 with the intention of cleaning up the land for hikers and climbers to enjoy its natural beauty. Named after the conservationist John Muir, Muir Valley is a nature and rock climbing preserve now owned, operated, and maintained by Friends of Muir Valley, an organization designed to continue the vision and legacy of the Webers who kindly taught Try Hard Club more about just that in a recent interview:
Try Hard Club: How did you get involved with climbing and why is it important to you?
Rick & Liz: We started climbing in our 50s and we got hooked! We started travelling and climbing whenever we had the chance. Hoosier Heights Bloomington was our first gym and we walked in and said we’d like to try climbing. The people there made us feel very welcomed. They helped make recommendations on what type of gear we needed, where to buy gear, and even gave advice on good places to climb. Muir Valley became our way to give back to the climbing community.
THC: How did you find Muir Valley?
Rick & Liz: We were on a climbing trip to the RRG and we just happened to stumble upon the area. There wasn’t any climbing there at that time, in fact there were no parking lots, trails, and certainly no routes. We absolutely fell in love with the area. We only saw a small portion of the property that we bought, but we knew it had great climbing on it and it had incredible beauty. It was too great not to share with the public.
THC: What was the valley like before you purchased it in 2004?
Rick & Liz: It was owned by a number of people. The first portion we purchased was owned by a person who bought it for logging purposes. The owners goal was to sell cabins around the perimeter of the valley. The northern region was used as a dumping ground for over 50 years. Locals dumped cars, concrete, and any trash they couldn’t easily get rid of down there. They only saw the property around the top as valuable; they didn’t see any value in the valley itself.
THC: What was the cleanup process like?
Rick & Liz: It was a huge effort. The first year we had Muir Valley, we and some friends spent all of our vacation days down there. The whole vacation was spent just cleaning up trash out of the valley, and at the end of the week we realized that we had only touched the surface. Later that year we had over 75 big gravel trucks pull trash out of the valley. We’re still pretty careful about bringing trash up out of there today because I think that if people see it clean, they’re less likely to trash the place themselves.
THC: Was Muir Valley Nature Preserve your first time pursuing conservation on a large scale?
Rick & Liz: Yes, and it didn’t start off on that large of a scale, it was something that grew over time. When we formed Muir Valley we knew that we wanted to keep it natural and cleaned up because we thought it was such a treasure. We formed the land as Muir Valley Nature Preserve because we felt that climbing and preserving nature go hand in hand.
We didn’t think that it would be as popular as it is today. When we first bought the property we knew that a lot of our friends would come climbing, so we thought we’d have a couple hundred visitors a year. In 2014 alone we had over 42,000 visitors, so it has grown quite a bit!
THC: How important are the volunteers, trail days, and fundraisers?
Rick & Liz: Individual volunteers come and help out every weekend. There’s a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done. We need volunteers to help out in the parking lot, to get publicity out, and to sending thank you notes to donors. All of that volunteer effort is extremely important. Our annual trail day is the 4th saturday in September. We appreciate gyms like Hoosier Heights that raise awareness for Muir Valley, it’s a valuable effort.
THC: What would you say to climbers/outdoor enthusiasts who are considering donating or volunteering?
Rick & Liz: I would tell them that the opportunities that are available to them are there, for the most part, because people believe in it and support it. Climbing isn’t free. If you’re climbing on someone else’s property, someone else is paying for it. From my own experiences, giving back is very fulfilling, Muir Valley has been one of the most exciting things we’ve ever done.
I spent a lot of my life worrying about my own career rather than having an opportunity to give back, and Muir Valley has been our opportunity to do that. I didn’t have a vision for this when I was younger, but in my life I’ve learned that it’s important to believe in something and to make it happen.
THC: How can I get involved?
Rick & Liz: FOMV is a great organization to get involved with. We suggest contacting Roger (FOMV Chairman) directly, he’ll get them in touch with the appropriate people.
There are several opportunities from serving on committees, being a board member, and all of the day-to-day work that it takes to make Muir Valley what it is today. People see the physical work but they don’t often see the management work that’s behind it.
If you’d like to give back to Muir Valley, please visit their website at www.muirvalley.com/. If you’re located in the Midwest, check out the Moves for Muir Climbing Competition at Hoosier Heights in Indianapolis. The 5th annual competition will be held on November 14th at 4pm. A $5 registration fee includes food, beer, and a t-shirt. You can register in person or over the phone at 317-802-9302.
For those who are not local to the Red River Gorge, we encourage you to look for ways to give back to your local crag or parks. As Rick & Liz mentioned, there are always plenty of ways to give back and support the places you love.