The perfect team — our members embody both sustainable outdoor values, love for climbing and the ambition to make Ohio a better place for climbers

The Board

Photo Credit: Peter Hellberg

Jack Santo, President

Jack started climbing several years ago when a friend from Seattle convinced him to head to the Pacific Northwest and climb a little peak called Mt. Adams.  Little did he know that this relatively small 12,000 foot peak would open up a whole new world.  Since that time he has had the opportunity to rock, ice, and mountain climb in four different continents and eighteen different states.  In October, 2010 Jack launched the Ohio Rock Climbing Group, a social climbing organization which now boasts over 1,300 members.  In 2013 Jack formed the Ohio Climbers Coalition (OCC), an Ohio 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, when he realized that climbing was illegal in many of the numerous climbing areas in the state. With the help of the Access Fund and the OCC Board, Jack is excited to work with local, state and national park systems to gain climbing access throughout Ohio.

Photo Credit: Mitya Ku

Gina Vitale, Vice President

Gina manages and oversees all stewardship events.

Gina found climbing later in life, not until she turned 40 to be exact. she has always been athletic and wanted to try climbing just never took the leap. Met a climber and figured this was fate telling me it was time to climb. Went to a meet up at a rock gym and loved it. The challenge, both mentally and physically, was exactly what I was craving in my life. Next came real climbing, outdoors. She is not an outdoorsy chic, definitely not a camper, but there's nothing real rock. So far only climbed at New River Gorge, Seneca and Red River Gorge. Oh, and Panama, yes, the country. Next venture is mountaineering and a possible trip to the Alps. 

She is a Physical Therapist Assistant working in home care and also teach Pilates on the side, gotta pay for the next climbing trip!

Gina joined the OCC board to help open up legal climbing in Ohio. She wants climbers to not have to always drive 5 hours, minimum, to climb real rock. There are so many opportunities in Ohio and Gina looks forward to being part of the group that changes climbing here for generations to come.

Tricia DiFranco, Northern Ohio Stewardship Director

Tricia develops and implements fundraising strategy to expand philanthropic support for the Ohio Climbers Coalition. In this role, Tricia also manages the expansion of our membership base.

Climbing became a big part of Tricia's life after helping out at the local rock gym and going on a few weekend climbing trips with friends. Her love for the outdoors and the physical and mental challenge of climbing made it an instant passion. By weekday, you can find her working as an attorney and wearing suits, and by the weekend, you can find her hanging out around a campfire after a fun day of climbing. When not climbing, you can find Tricia biking around the streets of Cleveland or in the metroparks.

Tricia is excited to help grow the presence of the OCC in the Ohio climbing community.

Jacob Palmer, Education Director

Jacob heads up the Ohio Climbers Coalition's education programs, working with the climbing community on ways to lessen its negative impact on outdoor climbing resources.

Jacob was first introduced to climbing in 2011 while pursuing a Mechanical Engineering degree at the University of Akron. After meeting Akron-area climbers and participating in a few trips to the New River Gorge in West Virginia, Jacob was drawn to the climbing community and the passion that every climber he met had for the sport.

Since 2011, he has frequented the New River Gorge in West Virginia and the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, but also makes trips Seneca and the Adirondacks a few times each year. In addition, Jacob has traveled to and climbed the Grand Tetons, Smith Rocks, Yosemite, Red Rocks and Horseshoe Canyon Ranch (amongst others).

Jacob has joined the Ohio Climbers’ Coalition because despite all his travels, he recognizes the potential that Ohio has to offer to the climbing community. He aims to help spread a passion for climbing to both locals, and people around the country by helping build up climbing areas in Ohio that can be enjoyed for generations.

John Mansperger, Southern Ohio Stewardship Director

John is involved in a variety of stewardship activities throughout the southern half of the state.

After teaching himself to rig top ropes and rappels John joined the OSU Mountaineers in the 80’s. The university club brought opportunity to teach climbing, to serve in various roles, and broaden his climbing into ice and alpine. Initial forays into Clifton Gorge and Seneca Rocks led to trips in bigger mountains, including the Andes of Ecuador. Within the climbing community, acquaintances often grow into friendships, and these friendships have provided John with climbing partners and bases for exploration of other climbing areas. 

John makes the best of his work travel (around the U.S. and overseas) to meet fellow climbers and climb; all while balancing other aspects of his life: father to a teen son, friends, parents, home upkeep, gardening, and staying fit.

John wants to improve the access to - and quantity of - our limited resources, while minimizing and reducing the environmental impact of climbing. He hopes to give back to this great sport by advocating responsible access to resources in Ohio, and to help find and implement innovative solutions to promote climbing.

Scott Hillman, Development Director

Scott started climbing in 2009. He spent that first year climbing in the gym and fell in love with the climbing community. One of his first trips outside was to Seneca Rocks, WV. Climbing at Seneca sparked a passion and he quickly began the pursuit of knowledge and tools necessary for a safe yet adventurous climbing career. In 2014 Scott completed his first round of guide certification through the American Mountain Guide Association. He currently works very closely with the adaptive sports community to share his love for the sport and is Co-founder of Capstone Wilderness Guides, an instructional guide service based in central Ohio. He is currently permitted to guide in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. 

Climbing has opened many doors for Scott and has helped him explore culture and make life long friends around the world. His climbing resume includes routes in the Tetons, Red Rocks, Yosemite, City of Rocks, Mt. Rainier, and countless more throughout the East Coast. 

The Ohio climbing community has grown significantly in recent years. Scott hopes to work with the community and landowners to ensure that the sport can grow, helping climbers to push their physical and mental limits in the outdoors for decades to come. He believes it’s important to promote the sport with a top priority on safety, access, and education.

Jed Johnson, Treasurer

Jed began rock climbing in a gym as a student at The Ohio State University when the Adventure Recreation Center was built. He now enjoys bouldering, trad, and sport climbing equally in destinations ranging from Mt. Whitney in California, to sandstone boulders in Alabama, to polished tufas in Spain, but his true love is thuggy pocket climbing in the Red River Gorge. He can often be found at the crags spewing insightful beta such as “Just pull harder!” Climbing provides the perfect combination of mental workout and physical workout while exploring God’s creation and building memories with friends.

A materials science engineer by training, Jed works at a startup medical device company in Columbus, OH and handles extremely technical tasks ranging from taking out the trash to planning clinical trials. He was born and raised 30 minutes from the Mad River Gorge and loves being a part of sharing this region with others. Ohio has a lot to offer outdoor enthusiasts and the Ohio Climbers Coalition, with a lot of support from folks like you, can make a profound impact for many generations to come.


Courtney Curtner, Communications and Marketing Director

Courtney develops and maintains the social media sites for the OCC, and takes photographs at our events.

Though she had always wanted to try climbing, after one date with her favorite climbing partner Steve, she was hooked and became a member of the Urban Krag Climbing Center in Dayton, Ohio. With the support of a great group of climbers in Dayton, Courtney has not only been able to learn a lot about the sport, she’s also had the chance to travel around the US in search of climbing adventures. One day she hopes to climb in all 50 states though Ohio will always be her home crag. When not climbing outside, you can find her pulling plastic at Krag, Vertical Adventures, Kinetic, or her home gym that she and Steve built just last year. 

When she’s not climbing, Courtney teaches Media Studies at Miami University Middletown and slings coffee as a barista at a local coffee shop. Also an avid cyclist, you may find her riding on the bike path on off days from climbing. Needless to say, she enjoys the great outdoors. 

Born and raised in Ohio, Courtney wants to share her passion of climbing and love for this state with others. By working with the Ohio Climbers Coalition, she wants to encourage others to respect the land and minimize their impact while enjoying the great climbing locations Ohio has to offer.

Climbing Committee

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Josh Hellstrum

Joshua Hellstrom was born in Utah and has spent exactly half his life in Utah and half in Ohio.  He was raised with a deep love of the mountains and outdoor activities.  He is a working professional who travels often and enjoys spending his free time outdoors with his family and children.

Josh was introduced to climbing by his father in law when he was 27 years old.  A climber since the 70’s, his Father in law was a hard teacher.  He specifically focused on traditional and alpine climbing, always stressing safety and self-reliance. Naturally, this is the type of climbing Josh gravitated towards and finds most enjoyable today.   Josh has been travelling and climbing for 12 years now and plans to continue this journey until the wheels fall off.

Josh is very grateful and excited to be a part of the Ohio Climbers Coalition.   He has been very involved in the past with Springfield and looks forward to being involved moving forward. He has a passion for climbing and loves the climbing community.  He looks forward to meeting and working with many different climbers.  But most important to him is being a part of preserving, improving, and securing climbing in the Springfield Gorge for many generations to come.

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Ben Berg

Ben Berg has been climbing regularly in the Red River Gorge since 2006, and has climbed across the southern and western United States as well as Europe. He has been climbing in the Springfield Gorge frequently for the last several years due to the close proximity to his home just south of Dayton. You may see him at the crag climbing with his lady crusher wife Sara. Ben is a career firefighter/paramedic with the City of Sharonville and is a certified rope rescue technician.

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Jim Wildenhaus

Jim has been hooked on climbing outdoors since he first hopped on a top-rope at Clifton Gorge,Ohio in the early 90's. When that area closed it was onto the northside of Springfield Gorge. Whenthat toprope area closed he went on to develop sport routes on the southside of the gorge with a handful of friends and great climbing partners. He has made many trips to RRG, Seneca and was one of the first campers at Roger's at the New River Gorge but has never lost his love for the diversity and challenges of Springfield limestone with the dream of someday cleaning and preserving that beautiful area for future generations.


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*We are a charitable organization under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code. All donations are tax deductible, to the extent permitted by law.