Mapping the Future of Rumbling Bald
by Erin DeMarco, AAC Conservation and Advocacy Intern
Rumbling Bald, a mountain in Western North Carolina’s Hickory Nut Gorge area has something for every type of climber, but its clusters of metamorphic gneiss boulders, some of them over 30 feet tall, have drawn more and more boulderers to the area in the last decade. With an estimated 1,500 problems ranging from V0 to V11 just beyond the parking lot, only Hueco and Bishop surpass the Bald in terms of bouldering abundance. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Chimney Rock State Park, boasting perfect southern exposure and views of Lake Lure, it’s no wonder that it is one of North Carolina’s premier winter climbing destinations; from November to March, visits to the Bald spike. But as the area has gained popularity, telltale signs of human impact have cropped up as well.
By 2011, a complex system of unmanaged social trails began to pop up as more and more climbers approached the crag, which posed a risk to the climbers and to the ecosystem. Anthony Love, past president of the Carolina Climbers’ Coalition, saw this challenge as an opportunity to partner with local land managers to find a solution to the problem. They soon realized that a set of comprehensive maps of the area could resolve the issue.
Given the tight budget in North Carolina, the CCC applied for a Cornerstone Conservation Grant from the AAC. The project was enthusiastically supported by the AAC, Chimney Rock State Park, the state park’s wildlife biologist, and by rescue personnel. CCC Secretary Brian Payst wrote, “Having an accurate set of trail maps was something that was seen as critical for quickly locating and extracting an injured climber.” The maps would also help preserve the rich biodiversity of the area, which is home to 37 rare species of plants and 14 rare species of animals.
With help from Andi Cochran in the GIS lab at Appalachian State University, the CCC used the funds from their Cornerstone Grant award to do a GIS survey of the Rumbling Bald area and used the data to create the first-ever set of accurate trail maps. This collaborative effort bolstered the relationship between climbers and local land management agencies, from the Division of Parks and Recreation to Chimney Rock State Park. In December 2012, the project culminated in a trail workday, where volunteers came together to close off social trails and rehabilitate established trails. Now, there’s a clear path to the Bald.
Additional reporting by Emma Walker, past AAC Conservation and Advocacy Intern.
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