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Contributed photo by Caleb Timmerman / Climber Isaac Talbot is seen at Woodcock Cove. "I'm excited for there to be another great public climbing area for climbers in our region and for people that come to visit this area for climbing," says SCC Executive Director Andrea Hassler. "One thing we all really saw in 2020 is the value of having access to the outdoors. But we also know that the places that we have see a lot of traffic and a lot of use. It's good to be able to spread that use out and give people more options."

There's a new crag in town — well, soon to be, at least. First, the Southeastern Climbers Coalition needs help constructing access points.

In late March, the SCC purchased 64 acres in the Sequatchie Valley known as Woodcock Cove. Previously accessed by only a handful of climbers through a handshake agreement with the former landowner, it is already home to some 50 routes, with plenty of room for more.

"[It will have] roof climbs, steep climbs, crag climbs, sport climbs, tower climbs," says Andrea Hassler, executive director of the SCC. "I think of it like a whole of family climbing places. There will be opportunities for kids or easy routes for people just getting into climbing, and also elite-level routes."

Comparing the area to Denny Cove, the group's last major purchase, "This area has a lot more moderate and easy climbing route potential ... than Denny had — something you don't see very often," she says, referencing the technical skills often required to tackle the sandstone cliffs in this area.

Similar to Denny Cove, the SCC will likely have a permit process for those seeking to set new routes.

But before the area's potential can be tapped, the SCC needs help raising the $209,000 in purchase and access costs, as well as volunteers to help construct trails and retaining walls.

"The cool thing is, if you come out to volunteer you get to climb afterwards, so you get special access to the climbing before we open it up," Hassler says. For everyone else, it will likely be winter 2021 or spring 2022 before the area is accessible.

Despite the property's waterfalls, streams and bluff line views, the highlight is a 75-foot freestanding tower reminiscent of New River Gorge.

A look back — and forward

The purchase — the second-largest for the Southeastern Climbers Coalition after Denny Cove — took a host of partners to pull off, says Executive Director Andrea Hassler. Entities like the Access Fund and Chattanooga’s Riverview Foundation helped with funding, while the neighboring landowners agreed to a land swap to allow for contiguous cliff line.

“Woodcock Cove is an outstanding and extensive sandstone crag, and its inspiring views over the Sequatchie Valley underscore how important it is for Access Fund to maintain the funds and transaction expertise to move quickly to help our local partners save privately held climbing areas when they go up for sale,” Zachary Lesch-Huie, Southeast regional director for the Access Fund, said in a statement.

To donate, sign up to volunteer or learn more, visit seclimbers.org/project/woodcock-cove. Work days are scheduled for this summer, and Hassler says dedicated days can be organized for groups wishing to help with trail-building.

"That freestanding tower, I can't think of a tower like that (in our area)," says Hassler. "There are some similar at Sand Rock in Alabama, but not as tall or as sheer and aesthetic, I would say."

Already, she says, businesses in the surrounding Dunlap area are excited to welcome climbers. The group has worked closely with local government and business representatives throughout the purchase process.

"When you think big picture about this acquisition, it's our first public climbing area that's within the Sequatchie Valley," Hassler says. "It's a region that's largely held by private individuals or timber companies and mining companies. There is a significant amount of potential for climbing in that entire region, but it's all held privately."

She hopes the purchase will serve as a foothold for more preservation. The area is noted for its ecological benefits, Hassler says, noting its elevation and tree cover, as well as the threat of stripping the land of its resources through industrial use.

She expects the property's preservation could have long-lasting financial benefits for the region.

"We know climbers spend money when they travel. We buy gas, we buy beer, we get food when we travel. We know money will come into this area," she says, citing a 2016 by the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga that attributed at least $7 million in economic impact in the region to climbing each year. "Climbing continues to grow in popularity. With more climbing gyms coming up throughout the area, we know we're going to continue to see more people looking to climbing as a sport or hobby or a way to just spend time outside."

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Contributed photo by Caleb Timmerman / Climber Isaac Talbot takes on the 75-foot free-standing tower, a significant addition to the area's climbing opportunities.
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