Southeastern Climbers Coalition And Access Fund Buy Major New Climbing Area In Tennessee

Wednesday, May 5, 2021
The newly acquired climbing area is a win for the area’s outdoor recreation economy and conservation. In addition to climbing, the project protects scenic views of Sequatchie Valley, wildlife corridors, streams and forestland.
The newly acquired climbing area is a win for the area’s outdoor recreation economy and conservation. In addition to climbing, the project protects scenic views of Sequatchie Valley, wildlife corridors, streams and forestland.
- photo by Caleb Timmerman
Access Fund and Southeastern Climbers Coalition announce the purchase and protection of a major new climbing area — Woodcock Cove — in eastern Tennessee. 

The acquisition and land swap preserves 64 acres of undeveloped land and approximately 60 existing routes, with room for 100-150 more, at all levels. The remote property includes a mile of sandstone cliffline, from 30-90 feet tall, forest land, streams, important wildlife habitat and outstanding scenic views. Also preserved is a rare 75-foot freestanding sandstone tower, with routes on all sides.
The climbing is on high-quality orange and tan sandstone, reminiscent of the New River Gorge.
  
“This purchase establishes a foothold for public access to recreation in the Sequatchie Valley and protects a critically important landscape that enhances climate resiliency in the region,” says Andrea Hassler, executive director for the Southeastern Climbers Coalition. “We are ecstatic that climbers in the Southeast continue to play a key role at the intersection of climbing and conservation.”

While a handful of climbers have visited the area in the past 10 years with landowner permission, public access to Woodcock Cove has never been secure. Last summer, local climber Michael O’Donnell tipped off SCC and Access Fund that the cliffline was up for sale—listed as two separate parcels on the open market. The two organizations worked together to quickly buy one of the parcels, securing half of the cliffline. The property with the other half of the cliff was already under contract and sold to a local couple, Amanda and Mike Murphy. SCC was able to strike a land swap deal with the Murphys, exchanging 27 acres of blufftop land for the additional half mile of cliffline and its 30 established routes. 

“It was a pleasure to work with SCC and the climbing community. The land swap was a win-win for both us and climbers. We can manage the health of the forest and wildlife, and the climbers can manage the health of the trail and cliff,” say the Murphys. 

Centrally located between Chattanooga, Nashville and Huntsville, Woodcock Cove sits high on the rocky, western rim of Sequatchie Valley. The largely rural area is dotted with small towns but dominated by undeveloped agricultural and forest lands. This area has been identified for its high conservation value, climate resilience, carbon sequestration, biodiversity and connected forest habitat.

“We are incredibly excited to team up again with SCC to help purchase and protect a major new climbing area in the mountains of eastern Tennessee,” says Zachary Lesch-Huie, southeast regional director for Access Fund. “Woodcock Cove is an outstanding and extensive sandstone crag, and its inspiring views over the Sequatchie Valley underscore how important it is for Access Fund to maintain the funds and transaction expertise to move quickly to help our local partners save privately held climbing areas when they go up for sale.” 

This area is also classified by the state of Tennessee as economically at-risk and distressed. Access Fund, SCC, and county officials hope that sustainable climbing at Woodcock Cove will bring tourism dollars to help bolster the local economy. Studies in the region, including one completed by the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, find that rock climbers make a significant economic impact at nearby climbing areas like Foster Falls and Denny Cove—in some cases spending up to $14 million a year. 

“Outdoor recreation is an important part of our economic future. We’re excited to support this new climbing area and welcome climbers to Sequatchie County,” says Sequatchie County Executive Keith Cartwright. 

SCC owns and plans to hold the property for long term, climber-friendly management and conservation, alongside the seven other climbing areas it owns in Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia. The Woodcock Cove project gives SCC a solid foothold to further expand public access in the area, which is home to a mecca of privately owned and untapped climbing resources. 

The Woodcock Cove purchase is the second largest acquisition that SCC has undertaken since its first purchase in 1999. Access Fund supported the purchase with immediate funds from the Climbing Conservation Loan Program. Woodcock Cove is the 30th climbing area conserved through the CCLP, Access Fund’s revolving loan program. SCC will repay the loan over time, returning money to help Access Fund save another new or threatened climbing area in the future. Since CCLP’s inception, Access Fund has loaned $3.2 million to local climbing communities across the country to secure and protect climbing areas.

Chattanooga’s Riverview Foundation also provided a major grant to SCC to support the project’s initial due diligence costs. Riverview Foundation has emerged as a leading supporter of climbing conservation projects in the region, including Access Fund and SCC’s acquisition of Hell’s Kitchen and Dogwood West in Rhea County.

“The Riverview Foundation is excited to be a partner with the Southeast Climbers Coalition in the acquisition of the Woodcock Cove climbing area,” says Bruz Clark, executive director. 
“Woodcock Cove is a superlative addition to SCC’s portfolio of climbing sites.” 

While initial funding has secured Woodcock Cove, SCC needs the help of local climbers and conservationists to raise $209,000 over the next three years to pay off the conservation loans to complete the purchase. You can donate to the project at www.seclimbers.org/project/woodcock-cove

It will be some time before the area can officially open for regular public use. SCC will build a new parking area and trailhead off Hobbstown Road, as well as a mile and a half of new trail to provide sustainable access to the cliff. These improvements are expected to be completed by Winter 2021 or Spring 2022. Public access will be limited during the summer months while work on the parking area and trails is underway. To learn more about public access, volunteer days, route development, and other ways to see and climb at Woodcock, visit www.seclimbers.org/project/woodcock-cove or contact stewardship@seclimbers.org.
Andrea Hassler, SCC executive director, climbing at Woodcock Cove
Andrea Hassler, SCC executive director, climbing at Woodcock Cove
- photo by Caleb Timmerman

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