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Saving Sand Rock

Will park development protect a classic climbing crag?

Entrance fees and development are coming to Sand Rock, a massive collection of boulders and cliffs in a 200-acre public park in northeast Alabama.  So far, development plans are modest and will not impact the climbing inside the park. According to Scooter Howell, chair of the Cherokee County Park Board, the development will include building restrooms, designated camping, and a welcome center.

“There are no plans for any Ruby Falls type development on the acres that we own,” Howell says. “We’re just trying to make it a little nicer than it is.”

The park has had issues with illegal ATV use, graffiti, and litter in the past. The Southeastern Climbers Coalition has helped mitigate this abuse by providing 5,000 volunteer hours to help maintain the crag.

Four acres have been cleared by the county for development so far. The park board has applied for $900,000 of stimulus package money for the improvements, and it plans to charge a $3 per person admission fee once facilities are in place.

Sand Rock goes by many names. Climbers call the park Sand Rock, but the county calls it Cherokee Rock Village, and some locals call it Little Rock City. Sand Rock was one of the first areas to be developed by climbers in Alabama and has been the site of a popular bouldering competition and massive Adopt-a-Crag day for the last 13 years.

Climbing constitutes the heaviest use of the park. But so far, climbers have not been invited to participate in the park planning process.

“The plan right now might just be to put in bathrooms, but what about the future? The lack of involvement from the citizens around the park and its largest user group worries us,” says Paul Morely, president of the Southeastern Climbers Coalition.

Sand Rock’s boulders sit on top of Shinbone Ridge, overlooking Lake Weiss, about an hour south of Chattanooga and an hour and a half west of Atlanta. The clean sandstone boulders form mazes along the ridge and stretch up to 60 feet high. The crag is known for its variety, presenting climbers of all abilities with an array of easy top roping, bolted sport routes, and a lifetime of bouldering.

The Southeastern Climbers Coalition hosts the Sand Rock Hoe Down every march to raise money for protecting Alabama crags. If you want to climb Sand Rock outside of the competition, check out Misty, a 5.10 sport route that is quintessential Sand Rock climbing. Misty is arguably the quintessential Sand Rock route.

WATCH IT: View video of climbers ascending Misty and other Sand Rock classics HERE.

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