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With Land Donation, Michigan Gets First Climber-Owned Crag

Slugg's Bluff sunsetA climber at Michigan's Slugg's Bluff at sunset; (photo/Sam Elias)
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The Slugg’s Bluff climbing area offers a quartzite cliff with 10 sports routes, a dozen trad lines, and lots of potential for more.

Just outside of Michigan’s Palmer swamp lies Slugg’s Bluff, a small crag with a modest amount of sport and trad lines. For the locals who love climbing there, it’s no longer just a place to hang on the weekend — it’s their responsibility.

The group announced Wednesday that a Michigan family that owned the land has generously donated 10 acres to the Upper Peninsula Climbers Coalition (UPCC).

The climbing group’s newfound ownership means permanent protections for the area, which offers beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. It’s also open to other forms of recreation.

“As the first climber-owned crag in Michigan, Slugg’s Bluff is a testament to the value our community places on conserving open space for future generations,” UPCC President John Miller said in a news release.

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The Arbelius family poses for a photo with UPCC Vice President Kelly Laakso; (photo/John Miller)

A Crag With Roots in the Community

Slugg’s Bluff took its name from Leo “Slug” Arbelius, who owned the property with his wife, Alice. Leo and Alice raised their family in nearby Palmer, Mich. They also managed the local grocery store and used Slugg’s Bluff to graze their cows.

In 2022, leaders from the UPCC approached the Arbelius family to gauge their interest in selling Slugg’s Bluff. The family surprised the climbers by choosing instead to donate the land. To celebrate the family’s generosity, the UPCC will build a trailhead kiosk acknowledging the gift.

“We’re proud to permanently showcase the Arbelius family’s record of generosity at Slugg’s Bluff,” said Miller. “Their long-standing support for climbers as private landowners helped build this community. Now that Slugg’s Bluff is in climbers’ hands, we know that community will continue to grow.”

The UPCC is one of 140 local climbing organizations supported by Access Fund, the nation’s largest climbing advocacy organization. Access Fund advised UPCC on this donation and provided grants and other support over the years.

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A sign at the entrance to Slugg’s Bluff commemorates the land donation from the Arbelius family; (photo/UPCC)

Decades of Climbing History

The Slugg’s Bluff crag offers an 80-foot-tall quartzite cliff line. It has 10 sport routes and more than a dozen gear-protected lines from 5.5 to 5.12, with the potential for more routes in both styles, the UPCC said.

“Slugg’s Bluff offers some of the best face and crack climbing in the Marquette area,” according to Mountain Project. “With an epic view of the Palmer Mine and the Palmer swamp, it offers the best fall climbing around. The crag offers a good assortment of overhang, dead vert, slight slab, dihedrals, a big chimney, and good cracks.”

Climbing at Slugg’s Bluff dates back to the 1970s, and climbers have long worked to preserve the area. In recent years, UPCC worked with Northern Michigan University’s South Superior Climbing Club. Together, they organized multiple cleanups to remove trash and graffiti from the property.

“There are so many ways for private landowners to support conservation and recreation, and we’re thrilled that the Arbelius family worked with the Upper Peninsula Climbers Coalition to make this incredible gift,” said Access Fund National Acquisitions Director Brian Tickle.

“The family’s donation does more than create Michigan’s first climber-owned crag. It’s a model for other landowners to protect and conserve privately owned land beyond their lifetimes.”

Preserving and maintaining a 10-acre climbing area is not easy or cheap, which makes climbers’ support critical, the UPCC said. Consider joining UPCC during upcoming volunteer days or making a donation.

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