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Roger VanDamme was Chairman of FOMV during the time that the Webers made a gift of the Valley to FOMV. Roger was an indefatigable supporter of Muir Valley during its entire existence. 

Paul Shelabarger.png

Paul Shelabarger is a tireless, long term supporter of the Friends of Muir Valley. He spends many hours helping to maintain and manage the Valley

The Friends of Muir Valley

How it all began

Through the years, Muir Valley's wonderful volunteers contributed greatly to making the preserve what it is today. More than 60 volunteers attended that first trail day, setting the bar high for subsequent trail days in the Gorge.  Hard working volunteers, supervised by leaders like Roger VanDamme, Paul Shelabarger, Dave Foster, Karla Hancock, and many many more too numerous to list here will be forever cherished by Liz and me for their amazing contributions toward Muir's success.

The Friends of Muir Valley (FOMV) was started by a young lady by the name of Karla Carandang back in 2004—Muir's first year in existence. Karla and her later-to-be husband, Jared Hancock, along with three other climbers formed an ad hoc team who worked together to put up the first rock climbing routes in Muir Valley. Working at a frenetic pace, this group established close to 150 routes in Muir's first two years.

Karla, along with the Webers organized and pulled off Muir's first Trail Day in the fall of 2004. Sixty volunteers attended and put in a whole lot of sweat equity in building trails to the new Muir climbs. In the next couple years, Karla led and help grow the Friends of Muir Valley group.

By 2008, it became clear to the owners—Rick and Liz Weber—that Muir Valley was becoming a premier rock climbing venue with climbers coming in from all over the world. As the number of visitors continued to grow explosively, the management and maintenance chores also increased significantly. Getting on in years, the Webers were well aware that it would not be possible for them to continue performing this work indefinitely. And, they very much wanted to see Muir continue in perpetuity beyond their lifetimes. So, they put a long term plan in motion to eventually turn over ownership and management of the preserve to the Friends of Muir Valley.

As this group grew, with the goal of organizing volunteers and the yearly Trail Day, it evolved into a more formal organization. In 2010, with the Webers' help the group filed for and obtained its 501 (c)(3) certification as a non-profit corporation.

For the first ten years of Muir Valley's existence, all expenses associated with the preserve were funded solely by the Webers. And, they knew that after they were out of the ownership/management picture, FOMV as the new owners would have to have another means for paying these expenses, which by 2013 were annually running into the six figures. The simple answer of charging climbers for admission was not possible for reasons explained further on.


At the beginning of 2014, the Webers made a formal proposal to the Friends of Muir Valley that, in essence, challenged the organization to demonstrate to the Webers that it could raise $200,000 by way of donations, grants, and fundraisers. If this goal were met, Rick and Liz would then make a gift of Muir Valley to FOMV. And this organization would see its $200k as a good start in paying Muir's expenses after they took over ownership. And they did it! FOMV reached this goal, and early the next year, the Webers formally gifted Muir Valley to them.

Now, there still was the matter of the new owners raising enough money to pay all of Muir's expenses. Their raising of $200k in 2013 was a monumental fundraising effort that could not practically repeated year after year. There needed to be another predictable means for paying for Muir's expenses. And as we stated earlier, it would not be possible for FOMV to charge climbers an admission fee. But why not?

To understand why not, we need to digress a little here to explain the gist of the Kentucky Recreational Use Statute. Simply stated, to encourage private landowners to allow visitors to come onto their land for recreational purposes (such as rock climbing) a Kentucky statute had be enacted that legally shields the landowners from liability claims, but only if they do not charge for admission. This is actually the reason Muir Valley could open to the public in the first place as obtaining affordable liability insurance for a climbing venue was literally impossible.

From a little research, the Webers discovered that climbing visitors could be legally charged a fee for parking their vehicles in Muir's parking lots so long as the occupants were not charged a fee for admission to the Valley, and Muir's new owners would still be covered under the Ky Recreational Use Statute. So, a plan for charging a parking fee of $10 per car was established regardless of the number of occupants in the cars. To meet the letter of the law, no one would be charge for admission, including visitors that were dropped off at the entrance, and those walking in.

In addition to the gift of Muir Valley to FOMV, the Webers leased to this organization , for a dollar a year, the Maintenance Building, all the equipment and tools in it, and the parking lots, which the Webers had retained ownership. This allowed them to continue  their mentorship for a few years until they phased out of that effort. 

In 2018, it was clear to the original owners of Muir Valley that the Friends of Muir Valley organization was up and running and doing an excellent job owning and managing the preserve. And so, the remaining 25 acres above the Valley along with all the tools and equipment was also gifted to the organization.

Karla Carandang Hancock

Karla Carandang in 2004 was the co-founder of the Friends of Muir Valley group.

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