I can not express how honored I am to have the opportunity to serve as the Executive Director of the SCC. As a lover of rock climbing, passionate conservationist and seasoned climber steward, I look forward to working within this community to protect the amazing climbing resources the South has to offer.
During my interview, I was asked how I felt about stepping into this position. Cody Roney did am amazing job as the ED and face of the SCC for the past 5 years. Others have passionately led the organization since the early 90’s – the work they accomplished is truly awe inspiring. I responded: “intimidated, but excited”. We work across 3 states, own 9 properties, and help maintain access to another 30 climbing areas. We have 1500+ members (and growing). As one of 130 Local Climbing Organizations (LCOs) in the country, we are one of the few that has staff and the only that owns so much land in such a large region. I often joke that if our land was owned by the Forest Service or National Parks System, this position would have an office in D.C.
The SCC has maintained a strong community based approach to accomplish the successes we have seen over the past 26 years. The list is astounding, including protection of hundreds acres of land and supporting dozens of land managers to conserve access on other properties. This work has not only secured access for climbing, it has also served to protect key natural areas, creating opportunities for conservation of habitat biodiversity. We have not only kept climbing areas open, we have worked to restore them in a way that makes them sustainable for future generations.
For me, climbing conservation has been a part of being a climber since the beginning. After college in South Carolina, I moved to Colorado Springs for grad school, earning my master’s in Applied Geography. My research investigated how people come together to restore lands after natural disasters, specifically fire. I learned that people who are intimately connected to the land, through recreation, residence or economy, are the most engaged in community-based restoration efforts. Successful efforts are collaborative between federal, state and local agencies, non-profits organizations and individual advocates. And finally – access to recreation is important for the health of the people who live there and the lands we love.
I started building trails to climbing areas as a volunteer with the Rocky Mountain Field Institute and BLM at Shelf Road in Southern Colorado while I was in grad school. I went on to work for several non-profits as a field instructor, environmental educator and project coordinator. I worked with volunteers to build and restore climbing access at high impact areas, taught youth environmental science and outdoor skills, and implemented sustainability projects on campus. When I finished school, I worked at the University to create an on-campus multi-use trail system. I also managed our outdoor recreation program, taking students backpacking, whitewater rafting, and of course – climbing. My love for climbing grew as I spent my weekends at a cliff somewhere in the mountains and my winters, early mornings and evenings training in the gym.
In 2016, I did the thing most climbers do – I bought a van and headed (further) out West. I climbed in Yosemite and the High Sierra, surfed in the Pacific Ocean. I returned to Colorado to work seasonally with the Rocky Mountain Field Institute as an alpine field instructor for trail construction in the Rocky Mountains and with the Catamount Center as an environmental science and stewardship fellow at a residential mountain campus. I then joined the Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team with my climbing partner Annabelle, and we spent 2 years on the road visiting over 50 climbing areas in 30 states to work with local climbing organizations and land managers to build access trails, staging areas and landing zones as well as educate climbers about low impact behaviors. That is when I rediscovered and fell in love with Chattanooga and climbing in the Southeast.
I have a lot to learn, and even more to do. SCC has been successful because of the dedicated efforts from passionate volunteers in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. Together, the community has made a lasting impact on the places we live. But there’s still more to do and we’ve got some great projects on the horizon – In Tennessee, we’re continuing infrastructure work at the base of the Buffet Wall in Denny Cove and establishing a new multi-use park (with climbing) outside of Chattanooga. In Alabama, we are working with Cherokee Rock Village to restore the staging areas and replace fixed hardware at Sand Rock as well as mitigating impacts at our properties. In Georgia, we are managing use at Boat Rock and working to establish relationships with the State Parks.
We are also steadily fundraising to pay off the Denny Cove acquisition as well as Hell’s Kitchen and Dogwood West with the Access Fund. We’re updating our database so we can track our members and volunteers. We are contributing to regional conservation efforts to further protect climbing and encourage recreation access in our areas. And we’re looking into revamping our Area Rep program to address the needs of our climbing areas and local communities.
I am excited about the future of our organization as we build on our past successes to meet the current needs, impacts and dynamics. I hope you will join in these efforts by lending a hand at an event, donating to help pay off our loans or spreading the word about the work we are pursuing. If you ever have a question or concern, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me – I want to hear from you, and look forward to meeting you out climbing or at an event. Until then – be safe, have fun, and keep climbing!
Andrea Hassler, M.A.
Southeastern Climbers Coalition