Positive Changes for New River Gorge Climbers

posted by dpm on 04/28/2012

The world's second longest arch bridge and the Fern Point crag at the New River Gorge. Photo: Mike Williams/DPM

The New River Gorge, West Virginia is one of America’s premiere climbing areas with over 1500 routes spread throughout the gorge. The National Park Service owns and manages nearly all of the areas and access is secured through NPS parking lots and trails. But at the downstream end of the gorge lies Bubba City, one of the area’s most popular crags with approximately 340 routes. While the cliff is located on NPS land, the area atop the cliff, including the access trail, is privately owned. Traditional access to the climbs required parking on the side of the road and hiking through the woods. In the mid-2000’s the land was purchased by Optima Properties WV, and a housing development called Wild Rock began construction atop the crag.

Initial fears of losing access to Bubba City blew over quickly as the New River Alliance of Climbers (NRAC) immediately began communication with Carl Frisckorn, founder and resident of the Wild Rock community. Since that time, NRAC and Carl have worked together toward developing user friendly access through the neighborhood. “We knew right away that Carl’s intent was not to restrict, but to improve access to the cliffs beneath the property,” says NRAC president Gene Kistler. “Wild Rock has taken great care as a sustainable home site community to preserve the natural character of the gorge. The people that are moving here want access to great trails, climbing, and views and they have no intention of preventing the general public from enjoying that as well.”

Initial plans for the National Park Service to hold an access easement fell through and the Access Fund stepped in to help. With the help of Nathan Fetty -managing attorney at the West Virginia University College of Law’s Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic- the Access Fund, NRAC, and Wild Rock worked to create a plan for secure long-term access to the Bubba City crags. Yesterday, just a few feet from the trail, Gene Kistler of NRAC and Carl Frischkorn of Wild Rock signed the papers granting a co-held access easement to NRAC and the Access Fund. The easement is good for five years at which time the agreement will be reassessed.

From left: Kenny Parker (NRAC board), Carl Frischkorn (Wild Rock), and Gene Kistler (NRAC President) sign the papers making the access easement official. Photo: Mike Williams/DPM

“This is great news, not just for climbers, but for anyone that wants to enjoy hiking in this area,” says NRAC board member and guidebook author Mike Williams. “Over the past few years we’ve seen great improvement at Bubba City. We now have two adequate parking lots and two well-maintained trail systems that lead to the upstream and downstream sectors of Bubba City.”

“One of the other challenges we faced this year came with news that Roger’s campground was closing. I spent the best summers of my life hanging out up there and I know I’m not the only one. While there are other camping options in the region, none represent the cultural hub that Roger’s did.”

It couldn’t have come at a better time that the American Alpine Club has announced their purchase of a 40-acre parcel for a new campground at the New River Gorge. The proposed campground is located atop the gorge just a few minutes drive from most of the crags and within walking distance of the Bridge Buttress and Junkyard crags. There are also established bouldering areas on the property. For those familiar, it would be a short hike through the woods to Burnwood, site of the New River Rendezvous.

Google earth image showing a regional overview. Nearly unbroken cliffline extends throughout the gorge beyond the boundaries of this photo. 

The proposed campground will be developed in phases with potentially 60 campsites when completed. It will also include a community gathering room, shower house, and a cabin to accommodate a permanent camp host. Construction is planned to begin soon in hopes that primitive camping will be available by the end of the year.

In a press release the AAC noted, “Designing a campground that is environmentally sensitive and supported by the adjacent landowners is paramount to the project’s success. The design includes a spatial buffer from the Ames Heights neighborhood. The chosen road alignment works with the topography to minimize site disturbance. The green design of structures will be overseen by Jim Logan, AAC board member and the LEED-certified architect designing the site. Gene Kistler—AAC member and board member of the New River Alliance of Climbers—will be acting as General Contractor for this project.”

“I was excited and a bit shocked to see the AAC step up and make this happen,” says Kistler. “They’ve really invested energy in expanding their reach to rock climbers, not just mountaineers. This is a great step toward connecting with the rock climbing community.”

Proposed campground detail. Photo: American Alpine Club

NRAC is already looking into the future and faces an endless surplus of new projects to attack. Some of these future projects include: continued rebolting efforts, trail maintenance/parking lot at Whipporwill, preserving the cliff base and Hemlock trees at Butcher’s Branch, securing access to downstream areas along the Meadow River (not currently in the guidebook), and much more. If you are a New River climber please consider getting involved with NRAC. NRAC is an alliance of climbers! NRAC is you!

Click here to ‘like’ NRAC on their Facebook page and stay up to date on projects.

Visit the NRAC website or donate money.

Read the official press release regarding the American Alpine Club Campground.

Read the official press release from the Access Fund regarding the Bubba City access easement.

Read an article in the Charleston Gazette with more info about the Bubba City access easement.  

Gene Kistler shows off one of the bombproof kiosks erected by NRAC at the Bubba City Trailhead. Photo: Mike Williams/DPM