Chattanooga Climbing Conservation Initiative, a climbing stewardship and community development model



Project Status: On going

The Access Fund (AF) has identified the Chattanooga, Tennessee as an ideal location to implement a climbing stewardship and community development model that will both conserve the climbing environment and provide impetus for recreation-based economic-development. As the national leader in climbing conservation and climbing resource management, the AF will work with the Southeastern Climbers Coalition (SCC), the key members of the Chattanooga climbing community and region property owners, land managers and civic leaders to develop the area’s climbing resources in a manner that ensures long term sustainability as well as climbing-driven economic opportunities.

The objectives of the project are:

  • Build an advocacy base that supports climbing resource conservation and stewardship
  • Demonstrate and increase the economic impact of outdoor climbing resources to Chattanooga region
  • Address stewardship and infrastructure needs through on-site work at new and existing climbing areas, i.e. Foster Falls, Leda, and Stone Fort as well as two new developing climbing areas, St. Elmo and Denny Cove.

A study recently completed by University of Chattanooga finds that climbers have an annual economic impact of $7 million to Hamilton County. Chattanooga civic leaders are recognizing a direct benefit from improved climbing areas and are motivated to promote their dedication to conservation and support for outdoor recreational opportunities, as the popularity of climbing draws new residents and businesses to the region.

As champions of the positive impacts of thoughtful climbing resource management on community’s health and economic stability, AF Conservation Team members conducts necessary trail and resource improvements designed to increase the sustainability and accessibility at each climbing site.


Chattanooga is situated in the rugged Southern Cumberland region of the Appalachian Mountains, an area recognized for its climbing and outdoor recreation opportunities. Historically climbing areas such as those in the Chattanooga region have been developed “off the radar” without long-term planning or consideration the creation of a sustainable climbing environment in light of increased future use and demand. Many outdoor climbing areas are seeing the negative impacts such as decreased user safety, unsustainable and deteriorating environmental conditions, and less enjoyable, diminished climbing experiences resulting from this lack of forethought.

We believe that, with a comprehensive climbing management approach between the climbing community, land managers and civic leaders, climbing resources cared for in a sustainable manner will provide long term benefit to the climbing community which in turn, increases its contribution to the greater Chattanooga community.

Outdoor recreation improvements bring opportunities for public engagement, economic growth and improved community health. Visitor use is high, and state park land managers have serious concerns about the sustainability of the climbing area. AF is providing management consultation and direct infrastructure improvements that mitigate user impacts. The end result is a beloved climbing area climbers can continue to enjoy (more sustainably) and land managers can manage more effectively.


This project benefits the local community by creating and sustaining climbing sites; educating and empowering local climbing organizations, land managers and municipal interests; while increasing the economic benefits to the community through the creation of sustainable outdoor climbing and appealing outdoor recreation. The AF Conservation Team with SCC will provide leadership, education and training for members of the SCC community of volunteers. Locally-based climbing-stewards from climbing community will be dispatched to address vital infrastructure improvements to the climbing areas


The national context for appropriate, “best practice” climbing area planning and stewardship is limited. The history of climbing stewardship is one of smaller-scale, one-off Adopt a Crag events often organized in reaction to problematic user patterns and degrading climbing resources. Although the small scale stewardship activities are an effective means of motivating volunteers and raising awareness, these events tend to be more remedial than proactive. The comprehensive climbing management initiative proposed in this plan will set a standard in climbing stewardship nationally, providing a model for other climbing organizations, land managers and communities emulate.

Access Fund features the Chattanooga initiative as a model case study for local climbing organizations, land managers and civic partners throughout the United States in its national climbing stewardship trainings. Taking this regional initiative will be critically important for perpetuating new climbing stewardship initiatives in other parts of the country. The AF will highlight this initiative in its communications and educational programming, showcasing efforts at our national summits.


The entire project cannot be possible without the full engagement and investment of the local community. As the regional non-profit organization dedicated to the climbing resources of the greater Chattanooga region, SCC will play a pivotal role in project completion. As the national organization that empowers local communities, the Access Fund will work alongside the SCC to develop their capacity as climbing area stewards. The Access Fund will host an event at a local Chattanooga climbing gym, as part of the ROCK Project, a national effort connecting new and indoor climbers with appropriate outdoor behaviour.