August 1, 2016. Jasper, TN – Access Fund and Southeastern Climbers Coalition (SCC) are thrilled to announce that Denny Cove, a 685-acre parcel of land in eastern Tennessee, has been acquired and opened to climbing. This acquisition preserves a wild and undeveloped piece of the Fiery Gizzard area in the Southern Cumberland Plateau, and was made possible with critical support of The Land Trust for Tennessee (LTTN) and The Conservation Fund.
Denny Cove is located 30 minutes outside of Chattanooga, just north of the small town of Jasper, between the popular climbing at Foster Falls and Castle Rock. Local climbers began exploring the Denny Cove area five years ago. Excited by the quality and quantity of the cliff line, they brought it to the attention of Access Fund and SCC in 2011. They joined forces with South Cumberland State Park, LTTN, and The Conservation Fund and began working on a long term plan to purchase the property from a private timber owner for permanent protection and climbing access.
“This project is a great opportunity to stitch together important, conserved land in the South Cumberland region,” says Joel Houser, LTTN. “What was private property is now permanently protected and open to the public. This is a win for land conservation and outdoor recreation in our state.”
The deal was signed on July 27, and the area is now officially secured and opened to climbing. Southeastern Climbers Coalition will temporarily hold the property, with plans to transfer it to the State of Tennessee for permanent ownership and management later this year.
Denny Cove already offers approximately 150 climbing routes, with potential for many more on nearly three miles of cliff line. The unique multi-colored sandstone offers routes of all grades and ability levels and boasts a wide variety of terrain—from long overhanging walls to massive roofs, slabs, cracks, and corners.
“This is an important step for climbing conservation in the region,” says Zachary Lesch-Huie, Southeast Regional Director for Access Fund. “We’ve protected and opened one of the Deep South’s largest new climbing areas, and forged new partnerships with the state and conservation groups that will strengthen our ability to protect more climbing areas in the future.”
In addition to rock climbing, the property will eventually offer hiking trails to scenic overlooks, a three-mile trail to a 70-foot waterfall, and primitive campsites. Denny Cove is a recreational landmark in the Thrive 2055 regional planning initiative and part of the new Chattanooga Climbing Conservation Initiative, a 3-year climbing stewardship and sustainability project headed up by Access Fund, with support from Lyndhurst Foundation.
The purchase is significant for land conservation work in the region. It preserves scenic views, water quality and critical plant and wildlife habitat. The steep mountain valley is part of an area identified in the Tennessee State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) and the 2011 Cumberland Voices Conservation Vision document, which includes at least 20 rare plant and animal species marked as a “high priority” for protection.
“This extraordinary conservation effort complements the extensive work we have already done in the Fiery Gizzard area, assisting with the protection of more than 6,200 acres in one of the most intact, biologically diverse natural landscapes remaining in the eastern United States,” said Ralph Knoll, Tennessee representative for The Conservation Fund.
The land is also considered “climate resilient,” referring to its ability to provide diverse wildlife habitat and give plants and animals room to move even in the face of an uncertain climate. As part of the Fiery Gizzard watershed, it may eventually connect with 20,000 protected acres of conservation lands between Sewanee, Grundy Forest and State Natural Area, Grundy Lakes State Park, Foster Falls Wild Area, and several lands privately protected through conservation easements held by LTTN.
“The successful conservation of Denny Cove is a resounding win for climbers and wildlife alike,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s Executive Vice President. “This is an enduring place that truly merits permanent protection, given its remarkable role as a haven for wildlife under a changing climate. OSI congratulates Access Fund and Southeastern Climbers Coalition on this impressive achievement.”
Denny Cove is located in a rural area near many counties that are classified by Tennessee as economically at-risk or distressed. A recent Hamilton County economic impact study on rock climbing by University of Tennessee Chattanooga found rock climbers are having a $7 million dollar impact per year. Most climbing visitors to Hamilton County also visit climbing sites in nearby counties, like Marion, Morgan, and Rhea counties.
The coalition of climbers and conservationists secured initial funding for the $1.2 million purchase from a variety of public and private sources, including Access Fund, The Conservation Fund, Friends of South Cumberland, LTTN, Riverview Foundation, Lyndhurst Foundation, and SCC. When the property is transferred to Tennessee’s state parks, The Open Space Institute will provide nearly a quarter of the funding needed through their Southern Cumberland Fund and Resilient Landscapes Initiative, which was made possible with funding from Doris Duke Foundation, Lyndhurst Foundation, Benwood Foundation, and Merck Family Fund. Tennessee’s State Land Acquisition Fund and Heritage Conservation Trust Fund will also provide additional critical funding. To bridge the gap between available and pending funds, The Conservation Fund’s Land Conservation Loans program and the Access Fund’s Climbing Conservation Loan Program provided critical short-term funding to secure the property. Fundraising for the purchase is ongoing.
While initial funding has secured Denny Cove, fundraising is ongoing and donations are needed to pay off the conservation loans to complete the purchase. SCC still faces a gap in funding and needs the help of local climbers and conservationists to raise $180,000 over the next 3 years. You can donate to the project at www.seclimbers.org/dennycove.
SCC, Access Fund, and South Cumberland State Park are actively working to improve the access road, construct a parking lot, and build out trails. The Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team will return to Denny Cove in 2017 to work alongside SCC and the park on climbing trails and infrastructure. SCC and Access Fund will continue to offer long-term climbing management support to the park.
Future land acquisitions could link the property to Foster Falls and other state park lands, offering potential trail extensions and connections. SCC and Access Fund continue to look for potential opportunities in this area.
Public access will be limited during August and September while work on trails and the road are underway. To learn more about the public access, volunteer work days, and other ways to help, visit www.seclimbers.org/dennycove.