If you’ve never heard the name before, you’d be excused for thinking that “Casket Quarry” is probably a frightening place. In truth, it’s a place full of potential and activity, and one that is poised to become a key point of revitalization in Duluth.
During the early part of the 20th century, the West Duluth quarry was a worksite for the Duluth Crushed Stone Company, which removed enough rock over time to leave a 100-foot-high cliff. In the 1970s, an operation called the Polaris Wilbert Vault Company occupied a nearby building, and would often leave their products– concrete burial vaults–out in the open air. Adventurers in the burgeoning climbing community could see them while they ascended and descended the rock face–hence, the name “Casket Quarry.”
Now, though, it seems that Quarry Park will become the name for the soon-to-be climbing destination. As part of the St. Louis River Corridor initiative, and with money collected from tourism taxes, the park is set to be transformed from an eyesore where people deposited trash and built fires to a beautiful park where people can picnic, walk their dogs and climb.
Jeff Engel is a board member and vice president of the Minnesota Climbers Association. He’s been a key player in getting a number of climbing parks opened in the state, and he’s involved with the plan to reinvent Quarry Park, as well.
“There have been ice and mixed climbing there for many, many years,” Engel says, “but most of the routes tend to be on the advanced end of the spectrum for climbing difficulty. What they’re going to do is farm (make) ice with water from the city, and make easier ice to climb. So, you’ll be able to open up ice climbing to more people in the Duluth area.”
“We’ve been climbing there for decades,” says Lucas Kramer, the president of the Duluth Climbers Coalition, another group that is spearheading the project.
“The conditions were ripe for us to be able to turn the quarry into something we could’ve only dreamed about only five or 10 years ago.”
“I had been asking ‘What exactly needs to get done to make climbing at Casket Quarry legal?’” Kramer says. With the half-and-half tax and support from the city administration, the time had finally come. “We called a meeting, sat around a big table, and said we were going to organize and present a uniform voice, and we did.”
Kramer sees the park project as a way to bring tourism dollars into the area that didn’t exist before. He says that, currently, the quarry is an almost secret area that mostly only locals know about, and many of them only frequent the area to walk their dogs. Now, with a firm plan in place to manage the site and promote it elsewhere, the park could become a destination for locals and tourists alike.
Engel has seen evidence that a new climbing park can have an impact. At Robertson Park in Sandstone a similar park has been developed. “There will be a hundred people at the park every weekend, whereas before there would be a handful of climbers,” he says.
Current plans for Quarry Park include investments into hiking and biking trails and a disc-golf course, Kramer notes, and the park should begin taking shape, soon: “We anticipate being open this next winter for climbing at Quarry Park.”
For more information on the Duluth Climbing Coalition go to duluthclimbers.org
Written by Tony Bennett for Duluth.com the Magazine.