A variety of climbers, from young to old, together enjoy the natural cliffs.
GRAND LEDGE, Mich. – As Bruce Bright strolled through the grass of Grand Ledge’s Oak Park, it felt like he was winding the hands of time backward.
Sunlight painted the flowers, small bugs and trees that littered the lawn. Dirt, crunching beneath his worn work boots is what reminded him of the days long before rocks had cracked, fell and crumbled all over The Ledges of the park’s riverside locale.
“Through the 1970s and even into the 1980s … Climbers kind of, they manage the area,” Bright said, although the City of Grand Ledge technically has jurisdiction.
He remembered driving his car up to where a tree once stood, where fence posts helped people “STAY AWAY AT OWN RISK” for fear that someone could fall. He still climbs, so do dozens of others every month when the light peaks through the clouds and it gets warm enough along the Grand River.
Bright, unlike the people at the wall that day – is a retired teacher from DeWitt High School that taught different sessions of biology, environmental science type courses. His understanding of the geology that is affected by climbing and hiking at the park is something not many have, it’s evident that he studies everything around him with an eye for not the grip or crux of a climb but a crack in rock or deterioration of foundation.
Bright, as he walked along the high ledge, pointed to old railroad ties that were brought in the early 1990s. The ties were brought by climbers to help keep parts of the paths to the base of the rock wall together – even if they too became victim to the erosion that has wreaked havoc along the wall.
“You see those ties there, climbers set those years ago and are in need of replacement,” Bright said. “It’s kind of a developing hazard (the railroad ties) … but uh the city has since kind of taken over the place because they acquired the property right behind mine, in between my place and the park … they want to have a much stronger hand in determining what goes on here.”
While the hazards and risk are at your own, the sign at the park's entrance declares that the wall in front of Bright as he stood at its base is opposite of a valley split by a river.
Bright, walked by a senior from Grand Ledge High School. His name is Kenny Alexander, 18, and he climbs just like Bright and other people, old and young. Smooth jazz played in the background as Alexander tried to scale his own free-base climb.
“I had to do a book report in an English class in 8th grade and I hated English at the time. So I selected one on … that had to do with cave exploring and my buddy had a similar assignment in 8th grade in Grand Rapids and he did it on a park ranger in Mt. McKinley National Park,” Bright said about how he discovered the sport. “So, he tried to get me into climbing, I tried to get him into caving (but) the climbing won out in large part because it was so much easier to access.”
The Ledges are the only rock wall for climbing located in the lower peninsula. So, it’s been a congregation spot for climbers from not just Michigan but the entire Midwest.
“All of our parks provide a tremendous draw to the city’s economy. Oak Park brings climbers from all across the Midwest region,” assistant city manager for the City of Grand Ledge, Jodie Willobee said in an email.
It’s tough to maintain a wall that has been in place for thousands of years, as Bright continued his walk around the park and rock wall – the geological concerns were a focus while also he reminisced on the memories he’s made there.
“This mass of rock you’re looking at there came out just over a century ago … and this has come out (fallen) too,” Bright pointed to a collapsed boulder that blocked his path. “Because I have an old photograph that shoots clear out to a climb we call potato chips over there.”
It’s those types of changes that help Bright recall all that has shifted in the rock and in the world. The sport and the park help him connect with old friends and new ones along the face of the wall.