By David Whalen
The Southeastern Climbers Coalition (SCC) is a grassroots non-profit coalition with only three employees. Although, throughout the past 29 years they have had hundreds of helping hands working to conserve and preserve publicly accessible climbing areas in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama.
Caleb Timmerman recently became that third employee in the form of marketing director for the SCC. Here he helps tell the story of climbers and conservationists who have fought to keep public land accessible to all.
“Access to outdoor rock climbing in the southeast is never guaranteed,” Timmerman says. “It takes a community of people who care deeply about this outdoor resource to come together and form a coalition to protect that access.”
The SCC began in 1993 when Chattanooga’s own Sunset Rock, which had been climbed for many years prior, became under threat from the National Parks Service due to residents complaining about the presence of “rude and invasive” climbers.
Hoping to protect this world-class area from closure, a group of climbers tried to present themselves as more than vulgar rock jocks, but since they had no official title, the National Parks Service did not take them seriously. However, after 1,000 service hours and finally obtaining 501c3 status, Sunset Rock was eventually saved and the SCC was formed.
The next resurgence of communal rallying was done in the late 90s in downtown Atlanta. Boat Rock is a granite boulder field that housing developers were destroying through the use of excavators and dynamite. Boat Rock had been climbed before the 80s and was quite literally an epicenter for outdoor enthusiasts in Georgia. After crowdfunding enough to purchase Boat Rock, the land trust allowed the SCC to actively own property instead of simply advocating for good stewardship.
This volunteer fundraising type of work has remained the norm since then as the SCC recently acquired a $180,000 loan to purchase Denny Cove, in Jasper County. As of 2021, the loan had been officially paid off.
“When the property went up for sale, anyone could have purchased it,” says Timmerman. “It could have been bought by a housing development who would destroy the land, like Boat Rock, or a timber company who would do a clean sweep of the land.”
But with the purchase from the SCC, and its later selling to the Cumberland State Park Trail System, Denny Cove has been added to the list of permanently protected and public lands in an increasingly privatized area.
Following this great success, the SCC purchased yet another piece of private property to preserve it for future generations while developing trust and relationships with local communities near Dunlap, TN.
“Woodcock Cove is the first public access climbing property in the Sequatchie Valley,” Timmerman says, “which if you’ve ever been there, you see there are miles and miles of cliff line, but that’s all private. We’ll use this as a foot in the door for the larger community in the region to show that climbers are a responsible, socio-economic positively impacting group.”
The community leaders outside of the climbing space are excited and ready to support the SCC as the mayor and chamber of commerce of Dunlap came to the ribbon-cutting ceremony. An unnamed yet successful business owner even matched a $10,000 donation, motivated to invest and help the community grow.
There are over 40 areas in the Southeast where the SCC has its foot in the door of stewardship. Coming into its 30th year of operation, the SCC aims to switch gears inward.
“After our 29th year as an organization, we’ve been, essentially, operating out of a shoebox,” Timmerman says. “We’ve been incredibly successful as a volunteer-run organization, what more can we do as a fully staffed full-time resource?”
David Whalen is an adventure sports documenter who prefers to tell stories of the great outdoors by immersing himself into it. Currently, a communications major at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, Whalen will spend his free time dangling from a rope in the woods to make sure he gets the shot just right. Over 500 miles away from his hometown, Chattanooga has brought limitless opportunity for adventurous stories from adventurous people. For more information and possible collaboration please contact: XPZ169@mocs.utc.edu