Climbers Donate Land to Grayson Highlands State Park

Donation Builds on Success of Partnership Between Rock Climbers and State Park

Access Fund and Central Appalachia Climbers Coalition (CACC) are thrilled to announce a new land donation to Grayson Highlands State Park, in southwest Virginia. The parcel buffers state park land from private development, protects undeveloped hardwood forest, supports recreational access, and—most important to rock climbers—safeguards an outstanding house-sized boulder known as the AVP Boulder.

“In Virginia and around the country, climbers are a positive force for conservation,” says Access Fund Executive Director Chris Winter. “Grayson Highlands State Park is already a premier summer climbing destination, and this donation will help the park remain a magnet for climbers in the region, tourism, and economic growth.”

Climbing on the AVP Boulder. Ancestral lands of ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi (Cherokee, East), Moneton, and S’atsoyaha (Yuchi). @ Aaron Parlier.

Climbers are a growing segment of outdoor adventure tourism and southwest Virginia is an emerging destination. Climbing is a key regional building block that supports the transition to an outdoor recreation economy. Studies show climbers contribute millions of dollars to the rural areas around climbing hubs like New River Gorge, WV and Red River Gorge, KY.

“Earlier this year, I visited climbing areas in Breaks Interstate Park with Access Fund, Central Appalachia Climbers Coalition, and the Park Superintendent Austin Bradley—and saw up close how bringing Virginians and folks from around the country to climb in Virginia is good for business, fosters community, and strengthens peoples’ appreciation for the great outdoors,” says U.S. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. “I’m thrilled about the donation of this land to Grayson Highlands State Park, which will help bring those benefits to Grayson County and help more climbers experience all that Virginia has to offer.”

Now an Olympic sport, bouldering is gymnastic rock climbing on shorter rocks that range from five to fifteen feet tall. Because of the short height, boulderers do not require ropes and rely on portable pads and safety spotters. Bouldering grades reflect the difficulty of climbing a particular line and range from V0-V17. The AVP Boulder boasts more than 20 climbs from V0-V10 with short approaches and flat landings.

“Since my very first session there in 2008, the AVP Boulders have always held a special presence, even among the other boulder fields in the region,” says Aaron Parlier, board member with CACC. “Grayson Highlands is one of the finest examples of partnership between climbers and park managers in the Southeast, and we’re thrilled to make good on our promise of donating this land to the Virginia State Parks system.”

Climbers rally for a stewardship day at Grayson Highlands State Park. Ancestral lands of ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi (Cherokee, East), Moneton, and S’atsoyaha (Yuchi). @ Jesse Cheers.

As the popularity of bouldering at Grayson Highlands State Park grew, so did visitation to the AVP Boulders. In 2016, private landowners closed the area and put the entire 29-acre property that included the AVP Boulders up for sale. CACC—with support from Access Fund—acted quickly to carve out and buy the 1.3 acre-tract that contains the boulders and their roadside access point. CACC is one of 140 local climbing organizations around the country supported by Access Fund, the nation’s largest climbing advocacy and conservation organization.

“Virginia State Parks appreciates the efforts by the Central Appalachia Climbers Coalition to help provide stewardship over the past few years for this natural boulder field adjacent to Grayson Highlands State Park,” says Frank Stovall, deputy director of operations for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, which manages state parks. “Working with our partners at CACC and the Access Fund to properly incorporate the site into the park will allow for additional outdoor recreation opportunities and preserve the site for future generations to enjoy.”

Grayson Highlands State Park will manage this donated parcel for recreation, permanently protecting the land and climbing resource for generations to come. The partnership between climbers, CACC, and the state park was an important foundation for the land donation.

CACC supports the park’s management of bouldering through annual clean ups and trail stewardship days. CACC and Access Fund have partnered with other Virginia State Parks nearby to open climbing, like Breaks Interstate Park. They also work with land managers at Hidden Valley, City of Norton, and City of Appalachia.

CACC members with the AVP Boulder. Ancestral lands of ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi (Cherokee, East), Moneton, and S’atsoyaha (Yuchi). @ Jesse Cheers.

“Climbing and conservation go hand-in-hand,” says Winter. “In this incredible corner of southwest Virginia, climbers are working hard to ensure that’s the case for generations to come.”

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