A Conversation About Castle Rock's Protected Status

Jake Wheeler
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Castle Rock is one of many high quality sandstone crags in the Chattanooga area. Unfortunately, it is also one that has long been faced with closure threats and limitations for recreational use due to being on private land.

However, in April 2015 this threat was nearly eliminated due to the very generous donation from the owners of upper Castle Rock to the Tennessee River Gorge Trust. The Southeastern Climbers' Coalition have a lease agreement with the Trust and with this donation, the preservation, conservation, and recreational use of Castle Rock is now guaranteed a solid future.

We sat down with Cody Roney, Executive Director of the SCC and Zachary Lesch-Huie, Southeast Regional Director of Access Fund, to get their thoughts on the land donation and what this means for the climbing community and future partnerships.

Castle Rock's magnificent cliffs from above.
Castle Rock's magnificent cliffs from above. The Land Trust for Tennessee

What does this land donation at Castle Rock mean for the climbing community?

Zachary: Castle Rock is one of the best climbing areas in the region—to have the area protected for conservation and recreation is a huge win for climbers. In the past SCC's access was dependent on year-to-year leases with two private landowners. The situation did not offer much long-term security. Now that Castle Rock is owned by the Tennessee River Gorge Trust, it's a game changer. Thanks to a strong climber-land trust partnership, a conservation easement that accounts for rock climbing, and the new lease agreement between SCC and TN RGT, climbing at Castle Rock is more secure than ever.

Could this potentially be a springboard for other private land areas to potentially be donated or sold to conservation organizations for recreational purposes?

Cody: Absolutely! We feel that this is just the beginning of positive partnerships with other local and national conservation organizations like the TN RGT and The Land Trust of Tennessee. We are excited to build these partnerships and look forward to what opportunities will come for recreational conservation efforts.

Zachary: The Castle Rock project is a model of partnership. It's a great example of private land owners and conservation organizations coming together to protect a resource for conservation and recreation. And the potential in our part of the South to do more projects like this is enormous. We are blessed with rock around here, but much of it is locked up in private ownership. If landowners and organizations work together like we have done at Castle Rock, we could do so much more.

Castle Rock sits atop the Cumberland Plateau and offers stunning views of the Sequatchie Valley below. Located just outside the town of Jasper, Castle Rock is just a short distance from Chattanooga. Day-trips are the best option, as there is no camping allowed but you can conveniently camp at nearby Foster Falls . The bottom of Castle Rock, where you will be parking, is still privately owned and it is very important to follow the instructions exactly as per the owner.

As luck will have it, sport climbing season is just getting started in the Southeast, and right now is the perfect time to visit Castle Rock. Though this crag has the preferred season of fall to early spring due to being south facing, summer climbing here is still acceptable and should not be ruled out. Castle Rock is known for its abundance of moderate to difficult routes and especially for what is probably the most difficult route in Tennessee, Apes On Acid (5.13d). Other great routes not to miss at Castle Rock are Brown Streak (5.10c), Gentry Route (5.10d), and Orange (5.10).

*Of note: On April 30, 2015, the Tennessee River Gorge Trust and The Land Trust of Tennessee is hosting a party at The Crash Pad from 6-9pm to celebrate Castle Rock's newly protected status. Everyone is invited and all proceeds will go to the SCC, which is a partnering host for the party along with The Conservation Fund and Access Fund.

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