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Muir Valley owners/managers, Rick and Liz Weber, have announced their plan to gift this popular climbing preserve to the Friends of Muir Valley Inc (FOMV). Contingent on FOMV achieving a set of goals during 2014, ownership of the preserve will pass from the Webers to FOMV by March 31, 2015.
The Muir Valley owners have long been inspired by the work of the Access Fund to secure climbing access. It has been the Webers’ plan from day one to eventually gift Muir Valley to the climbing community. Although still actively climbing, guiding, and instructing, they are now in their seventies and want to make this move while they can be involved in helping to ensure a smooth transition in Muir’s ownership and management.
In 2003, the Webers discovered a deep valley surrounded by steep rock cliffs in the Red River Gorge region of Eastern Kentucky that they believed held strong potential for rock climbing. They purchased this land and, subsequently, several adjoining parcels. These were consolidated into the 350+ acre preserve, which the Webers named “Muir Valley”.
The vision for Muir Valley started small. As its popularity grew exponentially during its ten years of existence, the Webers’ vision for the preserve evolved. To accommodate the growing number of visitors, they created an impressive infrastructure, ultimately spending over a million dollars of their own money, supplemented by help from FOMV, grants, and donations from a few generous individuals. The result is one of North America’s more popular climbing destinations with more than 400 trad and sport climbs. In 2013, more than 40,000 visitors climbed in Muir Valley.
With its numerous and expertly bolted routes of moderate grades, Muir has earned the reputation of being the climber-friendly place to go—especially for casual climbers and those new to the sport. During the last part of the 20th Century and before Muir came into being, it was all too apparent to frustrated casual climbers that climbs with easy to moderate grades were few and far between in the Red. Muir Valley offers, in addition to numerous challenging classic lines in the 5.12 and 5.13 range, a generous variety of routes in the 5.6 to 5.10 world.
Muir’s reputation of being climber friendly also extends to the services and amenities provided to visitors. These include: monitored parking lots; free detailed maps and guides; five restrooms; clearly-marked and well-maintained trails, bridges, and stairways; a shelter house equipped with training anchor systems, running water, lights, and electricity; and the renowned Muir Valley Rescue System, which has been credited with saving lives and mitigating injuries. The Webers’ attention to detail includes engraved route ID discs mounted at eye level on each of the Valley’s 400 climbs. The couple has also conducted numerous workshops and seminars in climbing ethics, leave-no-trace, conservation, rescue, and climbing safety—including safe route setting techniques and hardware. For the past ten years, the Webers have provided the Valley and all of the amenities at no charge to the hundreds of thousands of climbing visitors.
The Friends of Muir Valley is a tax exempt organization that shares the Webers’ vision for Muir Valley’s future. FOMV was formed to assist in making access to climbing available at Muir Valley. This group—as well as the Muir Valley owners—received mentoring and support from the Access Fund, which also shares the vision of opening and maintaining climbing areas throughout the U.S. The Webers would like to see FOMV assume ownership and management of Muir Valley to fulfill this vision. To empower and assist FOMV in making a smooth, successful transition, the Webers have provided it with these goals to meet during 2014: 1) phase into taking over the operation and maintenance responsibility of the Valley, as detailed in a Muir Valley Operations Manual and 2) raise $200,000 to cover Muir’s 2014 and 2015 operating/maintenance expenses, as well as to fund expenses associated with transfer of ownership and the establishment of a stewardship fund for the property. The Webers have made this goal a condition of their gift to ensure that resources will be available for FOMV to operate and maintain Muir Valley into the future at the level of quality and to the standards the Webers have established.
All contributions to either FOMV or to Muir Valley will count toward this goal and will be used exclusively for these purposes. It is important to note that none of the $200,000 to be raised is going to the Webers. Muir Valley is to be a gift from the Webers to the climbing community.
FOMV plan to meet its goal by seeking grant funding, corporate sponsorship, and by relying on the contributions of the thousands who climb at Muir Valley every year. FOMV is reaching out to the climbing community, especially all those who have enjoyed their visits to the Valley, to help them achieve these goals and protect this legacy.
Donations can be made at: http://www.friendsofmuirvalley.org or http://www.muirvalley.com , or can be mailed to the addresses below.
Attached are some sample questions that have been asked of the Webers and their answers, as well as quotes from Roger VanDamme, Chairman of Friends of Muir Valley, and Brady Robinson, Executive Director of the Access Fund. For additional information, please check out the websites listed above and/or contact:
Rick or Liz Weber, owners
48 Muir Road
Rogers, KY 41365
Roger VanDamme, FoMV Chairman
Friends of Muir Valley
50 Muir Road
Rogers, KY 41365
About Muir Valley
About Friends of Muir Valley
Photos available upon request
Please specify subject(s) and file sizes/resolutions desired. Questions to Rick and Liz Weber, Muir Valley owners
Questions to Rick and Liz Weber, Muir Valley Owners
Question: What prompted you to establish Muir Valley for the climbing community?
Rick: “Why did we want to do this for the climbing community? Liz and I were in our mid-50s when we began climbing (admittedly a bit late for such an undertaking). The young climbers were very kind to us—encouraging and helping us, rather than just breaking out laughing at the thought that we might be able to climb. Muir Valley became our opportunity to ‘give back’ to the climbing community.”
Question: Why did you decide to put in excess of a million dollars and countless hours of planning and labor into buying the property, developing, operating, and maintaining Muir Valley, while opening it free to the public?
Liz: “Why did we spend a million dollars on purchasing the land, developing Muir Valley and operating it for the climbing public for the past 10 years? Well, it didn’t really start as
Questions to Rick and Liz Weber, Muir Valley Owners (cont.)
such a major project. We discovered the first piece of land and thought it was too good not to share. But it was so popular with climbers that our plans rapidly grew in scope, just to accommodate all of the climbers who came and expressed their appreciation for Muir Valley.”
Question: Mid-50s—why so late in taking up climbing?
Rick: “In our mid-50’s—why so late in taking up climbing? When we were at the ‘right’ age to take up climbing, we lacked the time and resources. We were too busy getting and paying for education and scratching out a living. Also, that was in the 1960s. The sport of climbing and the facilities and gear we now take for granted were not available then.”
Question: How did the scope of Muir Valley change from your original plans?
Liz: “Well, we looked at the first piece of Muir Valley that we bought and thought, “This is too good not to share. We have a lot of friends who climb. If we open this free to the public, we will probably get a couple hundred people a year. We can handle that.” Instead of a couple hundred people, we had thousands—in excess of 40,000 climbers last year. So, obviously, the scope of our plans and operating procedures had to also grow. In spite of the fact that Rick and I have spent most of our adult lives managing projects and businesses, I now joke, “Don’t hire us to do your project planning.”
Question: Why the name Muir Valley? Muir isn’t a family name for either of you, is it?
Rick: “No, we specifically wanted to avoid naming our property after ourselves. Our vision was that Muir Valley should live beyond our lifetimes. This was to be a resource for the climbing community, not a monument to ourselves. We chose Muir Valley in honor of John Muir, because we embrace the same ideals that he cherished throughout his life about climbing and nature conservation.”
Question: Why the goal of raising the operating funds up front before the transfer.
Liz: “We made the fundraising a condition of turning over ownership because we want to ensure that there are funds available to maintain Muir Valley to the standards that we have established and followed, and that there are contingency funds to cover the unforeseen expenses that invariably arise in an operation of this complexity. We are not willing to turn Muir Valley over and have it nosedive into a spiral of neglect that has plagued some other climbing areas.”
Questions to Rick and Liz Weber, Muir Valley Owners (cont.)
Question: Are you willing to make known your plans once you no longer own Muir Valley?
Liz: “Yes, we plan to continue to be involved with Muir Valley. The difference will be that after the transfer of ownership, instead of Muir Valley owners, we will be just two additional eager FOMV volunteers and donors. We will still have our home at Muir and expect to spend time lending a hand when we can.”
Question for Roger VanDamme, Chairman of Friends of Muir Valley
You seem to spend more time volunteering than climbing, why is that?
Roger: “Yes I guess that’s true, I spend more time volunteering than climbing. I have been friends with Liz and Rick since they discovered climbing. When they established Muir Valley I saw first hand how much time they chose to invest for the enjoyment of others. I was inspired, and I was in a unique time and place in my life where I felt that I too, could give back to the climbing community in a meaningful way. I take quiet pleasure in knowing that my efforts are contributing to each climber’s safety and the overall quality of their climbing experience at Muir Valley.”
Quote from Brady Robinson, Director of The Access Fund
Brady: “Muir Valley attracts climbers from across the nation and beyond,” says Access Fund Executive Director Brady Robinson. “It is an honor to work with the Webers to make their vision a reality and support Friends of Muir Valley in its effort to fundraise and manage this world-class climbing destination.”