How Rave Parties Are Raising Money for Climbing Conservation

Kaboom goes the wax bomb on the hour, every hour.
Kaboom goes the wax bomb on the hour, every hour. Tol Lau
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How do brews, bonfires, water balloons, and wax bomb fireworks raise thousands of dollars in the name of keeping climbing areas safe and accessible? The simplicity of it all seems too good to be true, but Knoxville native Spencer Victory has done just this alongside his climbing passion. Since 2008, Victory has raised over $15,000 dollars for fundraisers in the Red River Gorge and Chattanooga through his event planning.

His explanation: “I grew up on punk rock do-it-yourself ethics.”

Victory’s combination of wild antics, good times, and grassroots fundraising has recently helped stimulate land purchases and rebolting projects in the Southeast. And it all started with a simple, but nonetheless lively, New Years Eve party.

Victory has mastered the art of getting rowdy with a purpose. “I put a lot of my organization efforts in at the Obed and the Red,” he says. He organizes the water balloon-shooting contest at Red River Gorge’s Rocktoberfest every year, along with other events. If the flatlands of the Great Lakes state was worth anything to this climber, it was the fact that chucking water balloons at freighters during childhood vacations was the inspiration behind the anticipated yearly Rocktoberfest contest. This superbly effortless idea has reeled in over $10,000 for the Red River Gorge Climbers’ Coalition in the last seven years.

The best NYE bonfire in Chattanooga.
The best NYE bonfire in Chattanooga. Tol Lau

Victory’s knack for organizing fundraising events has transitioned well into his new Chattanooga home. What went from freelance filming for magazines like DPM and National Geographic, transitioned to Victory becoming an American Picker travelling the countryside in his catchy van, and supporting his town through climbing-oriented projects, like the NYE party.

“I bring our climbing community together for a night,” he explains. “It’s good we get together and do stuff like this because we have a really strong community here. And it was a huge success.”

Victory’s NYE party in 2015 raised $2,200 for Tennessee Wall rebolting efforts via the Action Fund, and maintenance for land owned by the Southeastern Climbers’ Coalition. The 2016 NYE party collected over $3,500 from over 200 guests visiting from places as far as Canada and California and as close as down the street.

The Tennessee Wall rebolting crew.
The Tennessee Wall rebolting crew. Tyler Willcutt

The new donation will go toward SCC land acquisitions. “If we own it, they can’t take it away. It’s important to me that climbers own the land so it’s always open for us and future generations,” says Victory.

Cody Roney, the executive director of the SCC, will be handling the fundraising in order to secure more land purchases under the SCC. Much of Roney’s SCC work ties into communicating with landowners in climbing areas, as well as maintaining SCC-owned areas. “It’s really different in the South compared to out West because we have a lot of private land,” says Roney. “A lot of coalitions don’t have to deal with working with landowners. Everything in the South is pretty much privately owned. We work with over 30 different owners and have a unique relationship with individuals.”

The SCC is the largest climbing coalition in the country, and it’s only getting bigger due to the growing support of the Chattanooga climbing community. It’s also the first coalition with the means to hire someone, Cody Roney, to manage the nonprofit. “Other coalitions are looking to us as an example,” explains Roney. After she was hired in September of 2012, the SCC went from 350 members to 800 in only three months. “The community is growing and it’s correlating with the SCC,” she says.

As part of the fundraiser, you could play against pool-shark Ron Nance for a free climbing rope.
As part of the fundraiser, you could play against pool-shark Ron Nance for a free climbing rope. Tol Lau

Victory’s New Years party is a clear example of how the Chattanooga climbing community is growing not only in numbers, but also the amount of support received through the local coalition.

“It’s really fun. A lot of people come from out of town and of course it’s the best fireworks show in Chattanooga,” says Roney. The party is low-key in expense, and fully effective in pooling large donations within a single night. “I was psyched that a simple party like that could help our community in a good way,” says Victory. “Shows that people give a damn and want to be involved.”

Victory enjoys late night endeavors at the crags just as much as any other unruly climber. You’ll often find him telling a slew of comical stories, slaying fire poi with friends, and crushing beers as if they were Southern sandstone. His NYE party is no different. Between the sea of puffy jackets and Carhartt pants, visitors can mingle among bonfires, craft beer kegs, Red River Gorge-inspired hourly wax bombs, pool table bets, and a midnight fireworks rendition. Thanks to Dell Scruggs from the Lily Pad brewery, Nathalie DuPre of Bell’s Brewery, and Joe Thomas and Ali Alter, there's a never-ending flow of quality craft beer throughout the night. A climber might think he or she's died and gone to dirtbag heaven when they toast to the New Year with their complimentary Solo cup of champagne.

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