New River Gorge: Damaged Goods Inspire Stewardship Innovation

The New River Gorge in West Virginia is among a growing number of climbing areas so popular and historic that they are being hammered, year after year, by climber foot traffic, large groups, rope bags, increasing hammock use, and a number of other climber impacts. The New’s high-quality crags attract climbers from around world, and the climbing landscape is absorbing impacts at an unsustainable rate. Popular crags like Butchers Branch and Tattoo Wall are literally falling apart, with bases of the cliff eroding so badly that shade trees are dying and belay stances are nearly nonexistent.

But where there is great need, there is also room for great innovation and leadership. And the New River Alliance of Climbers (NRAC) has risen to the challenges facing its crags—in a big way. Four years ago, NRAC experimented with a novel twist on the typical one-day Adopt a Crag climber stewardship event. What if they brought volunteers together for an entire week to address the big, gnarly stewardship issues facing their crags?

Now in its fourth year, the annual “Not Work Week” is a seven-day, allhands-on-deck volunteer event that tackles climbing area stewardship on a grand scale—all tied together with free food, daily raffles, and free camping. This year, NRAC partnered with local volunteers, the National Park Service (NPS), and Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team to renovate the base of Butchers Branch and construct a bypass trail at Sandstonia.

Over the course of a week, 100 volunteers hauled gravel, fence posts, and some sixty-five 8x8 timbers over a half a mile to construct belay platforms at the base of Butchers Branch. They also installed terraces to halt erosion, prevent further root damage to shade trees, and give climbers an obvious spot to belay and hang out. They also spent time naturalizing heavily impacted areas where climbers shouldn’t be venturing—mulching with leaf litter and branches to slow water runoff and give native plants a chance to bounce back.

While the Butchers Branch crew hauled timber and gravel, another set of motivated volunteers worked alongside our Conservation Team East crew and NPS staff at the popular Tattoo Wall to construct retaining walls and a new bypass trail to guide climber traffic away from sensitive plant species, limit congestion on the trails, prevent further root damage to shade trees, and improve the overall quality of the crag.

The annual Not Work Week is making a huge impact in creating a more sustainable set of crags at the New River Gorge, addressing decades of impact and helping to prepare these popular areas for the growing number of climbers.

Photos courtesy of Jared Musgrave

4 Ways You Can Help

  1. Spread the word: Share this post on social media and let your friends and climbing partners know about the issues.
  2. Sign the petition: Speak up and tell land managers to cut the red tape and let climbers tackle stewardship. Sign the petition today.
  3. Donate: The number of deteriorating crags is growing every day, while the funding to support them remains far too scarce. Donate today and help us build sustainable climbing areas.
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Tell Land Managers: Let Climbers Tackle Stewardship

Land managers often lack the funding and expertise to fix growing impacts, and getting through the red tape to put a shovel in the ground is their biggest obstacle. There are several bills and initiatives being drafted now that will streamline approvals for public lands, and we need your help to show land managers a groundswell of support from climbers.
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