Over the past few years, visitors to Rumbling Bald, a popular climbing and bouldering area in the Hickory Nut Gorge near Asheville, have witnessed some major changes. In 2005, the state of North Carolina purchased the land as part of one of North Carolina's newest state parks, Chimney Rock State Park. Last year, the state improved access and parking for the area, changing a rutted-out, one-lane red-clay road into a paved byway that allows much easier access. The area also now sports a larger parking area — an important improvement as the area grows in popularity: It's one of the premier boulder fields and climbing destinations in the Southeast. And while most simply shrug off the road construction and parking-lot expansion to development, it is the only development that area user groups want to see.
Last year, a 6.12-acre tract of land on the "West Side" of the boulder field — containing 30 boulders with about 200 high-quality boulder "problems," or short, difficult routes across boulders — went up for sale. That prompted many in the community to envision a not-so-distant future when the bulldozers of progress would be clearing the land for another multimillion-dollar home. The area, first tapped for its climbing potential in 1999, hosts some of the most notable boulders and problems in the entire area. The threat of future development motivated the Carolina Climber's Coalition — a nonprofit organization that advocates for climbers across the Carolinas — to move quickly in purchasing the land.
"In December of 2008, we were in the process of looking for opportunities for new land-acquisition projects," recalls Anthony Love, president of the climbers' coalition. "We went through a list of possible opportunities and this one came out on top due to the feasibility of the project."
The coalition quickly applied for a loan through the Access Fund Land Conservation Campaign, a multimillion-dollar revolving loan program based in Boulder, Colo., that provides local climbing organizations and other agencies with the funds and expertise needed to act quickly to save threatened climbing areas.
"The purchase was possible because of a major loan from the Access Fund, as well as support from the Triple Crown Bouldering competition, and CCC memberships," says Zachary Lesch-Huie, vice president of the Carolina Climbers Coalition.
Currently, the coalition is raising money to repay the $72,000 bridge loan. Since Dec. 5, 2009, the coalition and its events have raised $23,464 for the Rumbling Bald boulders acquisition.
Because the Carolina Climber's Coalition borrowed money from the Access Fund, coalition officials say it's important that every effort be made to repay the loan as quickly as possible so that other climbing advocacy groups will be able to make similar purchases in the future.
"We need everyone's help," Love says. "Whether it is $10 or $100. Any money helps with this project. We need folks to spread the word to their friends who climb there and those who have never been there before. Go and enjoy this place and help us purchase it. Each and every person who donates plays a role in saving a boulder field indefinitely."
Adds Lesch-Huie: "We really need the climbing community, those who know how good the bouldering is here at Rumbling Bald, to help us out and raise the money and complete the protection of this six acres of boulders."
For more info on the Carolina Climber's Coalition's fundraising efforts at Rumbling Bald, visit www.carolinaclimbers.org.
Have a say in Chimney Rock State Park's master plan
As part of the process to create a master plan for Chimney Rock State Park, the N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation is taking public comments on plans for the park.
Proposed design alternatives were presented at a May 26 public meeting, and audience members were able to ask questions and offer comments to officials of the state parks system and Greenways Inc., a Durham-based environmental planning and landscape architecture firm responsible for completing the plan.
"Creating a world-class state park at Chimney Rock has been and continues to be a partnership effort between the state-parks system and the community," says Lewis Ledford, director of the state Division of Parks and Recreation. "Chimney Rock State Park has benefited from strong support in the community, and it's important that citizens continue to be involved in the process."
A state park's master plan is essentially a blueprint for long-term development of facilities and recreation opportunities and a guide for protection of natural resources. It is meant to be an organic document, evolving as the park grows and as knowledge is gained about a park's natural resources and public use.
The N.C. General Assembly authorized Chimney Rock State Park in 2005, and more than 4,300 acres in Rutherford, Polk, Henderson and Buncombe counties has been acquired in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina and others. In 2007, the former Chimney Rock tourist destination was added to the park and offers the principal current public access.
Proposed designs can be seen at www.greenways.com/chimneyrock. Written comments may be submitted through June 23 by using an online comment form or by mailing them to: General Management Plan Coordinator, N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation, 1615 MSC, Raleigh, NC 27699-1615.
[Eric Crews is a freelance writer and adventure-sports videographer who spends his free time playing in the woods and rivers of Western North Carolina.]