Alabama's Moss Rock Gets a Makeover

07/13/2016

Moss Rock Preserve is home to a collection of giant sandstone blocks hidden in the woods of Hoover, Alabama outside of Birmingham. It has long been one of the Deep South's best and most historic climbing areas. However, when the Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team rolled into Moss Rock in late May, they were shocked at what they found.

“The park was in really bad shape. There was graffiti on nearly every rock, trash throughout, broken glass, remnants of illegal campfires, and evidence of severe erosion and soil loss,” says Lindsay Anderson of the Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team. “It was alarming, and it took a while to get past the eye sores and see the former glory of the place underneath.”

Veteran climbers in the Birmingham area remember cutting their teeth at Moss Rock, testing their power and grit on the park’s enormous sandstone boulders, long before Birmingham had an indoor climbing facility. Pre-dating Horse Pens 40, Moss Rock was the place to climb perfectly textured sandstone high balls. However, many climbers began to go elsewhere as Moss Rock was overcome by partying teens, graffiti, trash, and heavy erosion.

“What was once a highly popular bouldering destination has become essentially abandoned by climbers because of the ground conditions and graffiti,” says Cody Roney, Southeastern Climbers Coalition (SCC) Executive Director. “We hope these restoration efforts will bring the local climbing community back to this fantastic climbing resource that sits right in the heart of their city.”

Access Fund and SCC partnered with the City of Hoover to begin rehabilitation of Moss Rock as part of a three-year stewardship initiative to improve climbing areas in the Birmingham region. This Greater Birmingham Climbing Resource Improvement Project, funded by the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, is targeting four climbing areas in the region: Moss Rock Preserve, Trussville Boulders, Palisades Park, and Steele.

The Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team, a crew of two conservation specialists, just finished a 7-week stint in Hoover, spending a total of 40 work days restoring Moss Rock Preserve to its original beauty. Over 50 local volunteers came together to help the Conservation Team, and together they were able to:

  • Remove graffiti from 1,010 square feet of rock face
  • Spend 4 days picking up trash
  • Rehabilitate 620 feet of trail
  • Replace 11 cubic yards of topsoil to reverse years of erosion
  • Haul 8 tons of gravel to reinforce landing zones
  • Build 6 retaining walls to stabilize slopes
  • Install 56 check dams to prevent erosion and restore vegetation
  • Haul and place 32 tons of rock
  • Install a 31-step stone staircase to give visitors a predetermined and sustainable path through the area

“You’d be amazed by the amount of work the two of them can turn out,” says Colin Conner, Urban Forester for City of Hoover. “They’re doing it by hand—breaking rock, rolling it downhill by hand and setting it in place by hand.”

The Conservation Team worked with 56 local volunteers, who donated a total of 368 hours of time to help restore Moss Rock Preserve.

“Almost instantly, this project breathed new life into Moss Rock and renewed interest in the park from the climbing community and other user groups,” says Conner.

The Conservation Team partnered with a number of local organizations to make this rehabilitation a success. Special thanks to the local climbing gym, First Avenue Rocks, which helped recruit volunteers and gain support of the local climbing community; Hoover’s City Forester, Colin Conner, who provided the tools and materials for the project and kept our team hydrated in the Alabama heat; the Friends of Moss Rock, led by Ken Wills, who (despite not being climbers) brought dedicated volunteers to every weekend event; Southeastern Climbers Coalition for facilitating the project; and super volunteer Josh Williams for his unprecedented amount of support, showing up to volunteer as much as 4 days a week.

“It’s inspiring to see climbers and nature lovers coming out to enjoy Moss Rock again,” says Chip Powell of the Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team. “The increased presence of climbers, hikers, and nature lovers will make irresponsible users think twice before trashing the place.”