Melrose Mountain Climbing Park
Proposal by Carolina Climbers Coalition and Blue Ridge Adventure Guides
TRYON—At the Tryon Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday April 16, members of the Carolina Climbers Coalition (CCC) and Blue Ridge Adventure Guides (BRAG) presented a proposal for a public climbing park on Melrose Mountain.
There are two sites that the CCC and BRAG want to open to public access for recreational hiking and climbing. There is an Eastern Cliff and Western Cliff that each present their own challenges and obstacles to overcome to create public access and parking for visitors.
The Carolina Climbers Coalition (CCC) was established in 1995 as a non-profit organization with the mission to expand, enhance, and protect climbing areas in the Carolinas. The CCC partners with private landowners, land trusts, non-profits, for profit businesses, volunteers, as well as state and federal agencies to protect and expand climbing opportunities. The CCC owns four parcels of land throughout North Carolina and Virginia that are open to the public with climbing access. The CCC has extensive experience in trial layout and creation as well as management. The CCC is offering its experience and expertise to the town of Tryon in the creation of these public climbing areas as well as a management plan to maintain those locations.
There are many potential benefits of adding the public access to those cliff faces and establishing a management program. The CCC has pooled research information for the Board to look over regarding the potential financial growth that the public climbing areas could bring to Tryon. One of the studies presented was an economic impact study of Pisgah-Nantahala National Forests that showed that climbers spent $13.9 million per year in those areas (Pisgah-Nantahala National Forests and surrounding area) and support $4 million in job income. This study showed that the climbers were bringing in a substantial amount of money to the surrounding community and that it helped to support additional jobs that were created or improved existing jobs due to increased recreational usage.
The plan is to access an undeveloped section of land owned by the Town of Tryon via Hogback Mountain Road. The Town of Tryon owns roughly 200 acres of land on Melrose Mountain. Tryon Town Manager Zach Ollis stated that the deed for the property is so old that there are no records of it online and that he had to seek out the original hand written deed. The town has owned the property for quite some time without it directly being used by the town or its residents. The cliff faces and boulders are south facing and the areas offer expansive views into South Carolina’s Blue Wall Preserve. The visibility of the Blue Wall Preserve and other natural features will encourage recreational hikers as well as climbers to use.
Currently there is a vague footpath from Hogback Mountain Road to the Eastern and Western areas but there are no proper public hiking trails installed on Melrose Mountain. The CCC and BRAG are offering to provide a layout and design of a potential trail as well as offering to assist in the trail construction. Depending on the Town of Tryon’s decision, the trails may require additional contract work or volunteer partners to make the trails accessible and usable by both climbers and recreational hikers.
The CCC and BRAG have assessed the Eastern and Western areas and believe that there are between 25 to 40 climbing routes in the two areas. In addition to that there are 20 to 25 boulders that would offer an additional 100 “problems” that could be taken on using the Bouldering technique. Bouldering does not require the use of harnesses or ropes. Bouldering is performed on boulders or rock faces between 8ft and 20ft in height without climbing assistance but with a spotter and bouldering pad for safety.
Representatives Jonathan Gerst and Mike Reordan presented the project and encouraged members of the Board to strongly considering partnering with the CCC and the BRAG.
“One of the benefits to partnering with these groups is that we bring a strong trail creation and preservation program,” Gerst said. “This benefits both climbers and non-climbers. This trial could become a very appealing site to visit for tourists.”
Gerst also addressed a question from the audience in regards to the benefits of non-climbers, “To convert the climbing trial into a hiking path it would require some serious volunteer work or grants (to pay contractors) to help convert it. The Carolina Climbers Coalition are really good at helping to apply and gain grant funds for things like that.”
Reordan spoke very highly of the hiking community as a whole and of the Leave No-Trace policy that the CCC follows. That Leave No-Trace policy plays into the long-term sustainability plan that the CCC will help create for the Town of Tryon.
“If this is approved it establishes a climbing management plan for long-term sustainability planning with partners that are knowledgeable of what is happening and this helps to prepare for the demand and use,” Reordan said.
In addition to the other benefits that the representatives mentioned, Gerst noted that the type of rock in the Eastern and Western climbing areas is a unique and rare type for the area that presents unique opportunities for climbing. The climbing areas have rock that is of a sedimentary type that are more compressed and solid at the tops which causes a cliffing effect that results in inversions and overhangs that presents climbers with more unique challenges.
The current timeline for the project would take approximately two years. The Tryon Board of Trustees is expected to review the proposal and timeline of the project and make a decision next month at the next Council meeting. Mayor Peoples and the rest of the Board expressed a serious desire to pursue this opportunity. Peoples even stated, “I do not see a single downside about this project.”
—By Samuel Robinson