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Climber Access Threatened at Sunset (TN)
Submitted By: saxfiend on Mar 20, 2008

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Climbing at Sunset Park, one of the premier trad areas in Tennessee, is in danger of being nothing but a bittersweet memory, according to representatives of the Southeastern Climbers Coalition (SCC).

Matthew Gant, a member of the SCC board, said the National Park Service was recently on the verge of shutting down climbing at Sunset.

“One month ago, the rangers had given up on climbers, and made plans for closing Sunset to climbing permanently,” Gant said this week. He said the park service cited numerous negative incidents involving climbers, including loudness (Sunset is in a residential area), blocking trails with ropes and gear, and unruly dogs.

Local climber groups were able to prevail on the park service not to go ahead with the climbing ban, Gant said. He said the rangers want to see more involvement in education, monitoring and self-policing of the crag by groups like the SCC.

Sunset Park is part of the Chickamauga National Battlefield Park, a major battle in the Civil War. As such, it is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. Samantha Christen, the SCC’s area representative for Sunset, points out this is the only military park in the U.S. that allows climbing, and there is no particular obligation for the NPS to continue this practice.

“At any point in time, they (NPS) can come in and shut us down with absolutely no explanation,” she said.

The SCC has been a key organization in maintaining the sometimes uneasy relationship between the climbers, the park service and the residents of Lookout Mountain. Volunteers from the group have put in a tremendous number of person-hours on trail work, erosion control and installing bolted anchors to spare the trees at the top of the cliff. Christen says the park service appreciates this work, but only to a point.

“We are only, in their eyes, fixing what we broke,” she said. “In their eyes, we, at this point, really have done no preventative maintenance, just repair of damaged areas.”

The NPS maintains Sunset as a memorial to the Civil War battle, and recreation is a secondary concern. This is especially true in light of recent government cutbacks, which have left the park service short-handed. If climbers make the rangers’ job more difficult, they may consider it easiest just to get rid of the problem by banning climbing, Christen and Gant said.

“The park service does not hate us nor do they wish to see us go as a user group,” Christen said. “However, with the decrease in manpower due to federal cutbacks, they are prepared to take necessary measures to ensure that they are able to do their jobs.”

The SCC is currently working on a plan for educating Sunset climbers on the issues involved and on how to deal with people who violate the rules. Some possible steps include fliers to hand out or put on climbers’ cars; letters to climbing gyms, school clubs and outdoor organizations; and encouraging people to ask their fellow climbers to move their gear off the trail or keep their voices down.

In the end, though, it will come down to whether Sunset climbers care enough about this great destination to do the right thing. All it will take is a few uncaring individuals out of the thousands who climb at Sunset every year to put an end to almost 50 years of great southern climbing.

For the latest status of Sunset and what you can do to help, go to the SCC website:

Comments on Climber Access Threatened at Sunset (TN) Add Comment
Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated May 16, 2008
By Joey Wolfe
Mar 21, 2008

I will do what ever I can to help. These are such simple problems (packs on the trail, large groups, noise and dogs). The first to go should be dogs, that is probably one of the worst places to bring a dog due to the size of the trail. Last summer I watched an owner drop a #2 BD on his dog leashed below the climb Stan's Crack. Poor dog. Anyways, please let me know how I can help. As much as I hate this sort of thing, we need to police ourselves big time, I'm talking Stallone in "Cobra" big time.

Paul, I agree, time to get crackn' and go for broke.
By Rob Dillon
Mar 22, 2008
I appreciate that people fought and died up there for a few days 140 years ago, but the present reality is that people who like to climb rocks have represented a high percentage of folks who visit Sunset for the past 25 years. When does their experience count for something in NPS World?
By bbrock
From: Al
Mar 23, 2008
The residence of Lookout Mountain do not like anybody that is...well not a resident and especially people that are not in there economic bracket. There view is that people of lower economic brackets should not be able to enjoy the same things that there money has enabled them to buy. Point is we are already a irritation to them in general. Also...I am one of the biggest pro dog people on the planet, but Sunset is not the place to bring your dog. DO NOT BRING YOUR DOG TO THIS CLIMBING AREA....PERIOD. I don't care if the dog is on a leash, don't bring your dog. Don't be loud. Don't be stupid. If you do, be prepared to be called out on it in a very harsh manner.
By Amy Denicke
From: Aspen, CO
Mar 23, 2008
As a dog owner, I would be heartbroken not to have Luna (voted best crag dog) when I climb. However, if the people that bring unruly dogs make it a rule not to, so whatever. It is a shame that people cant behave like adults and be responsible for their possessions and actions. Lets all try to be as accommodating as possible to the poor people that feel invaded by our shouts of glory and passion in life. Enough of my soap box, whatever it takes to keep the damn place open!!
By Samantha
Mar 24, 2008
Thank you to everyone for your support on this sensitive issue.

Rob, good point, and one that has been raised by many (and I'm pretty sure you and I have talked about this one in person over the past few years?) Unfortunately, agree or not, this isn't your typical, run of the mill National Park; it is a National Military Battlefield and it has a completely different Congressional mandate. The specific mandate of this Park is the same as for Gettysburg, Vicksburg and other National Military Battlefields, and that is "to preserve and protect the cultural and natural resources of the park. A secondary objective is to provide high quality experiences for visitors, including climbers. All policy and actions will be based on these objectives." No where does it mention recreation, only preservation of history and education for that end. We are at their mercy.

The complete final climbing management plan for this area can be found at:

For the complete version of the climbing regulations (just so ya know I didn't make them up!) may be found here:

Whether any of us agree with it or not, them's the breaks, and those are the auspices under which we must function at this particular Park. Again, this Park does not operate under the same recreational management plans as other National Parks in which we climb. Bites, but hey, at least we get to climb there. For now.

As to dogs at Sunset, I'm a dog owner myself but to maintain peace, I will be leaving her at home this season. There are too many other areas where I can take her that will not jeapordize mine or anyone else's access to good times (plus she'll be super psyched to see me when I walk through the door at the end of the day and that is always a special thrill all it's own!) It isn't always climbers' dogs who are the issue; unfortunately we are the most visible user group and it is up to us to be good ambassadors, not only of our sport, but of all usergroups.

We have a rare opportunity here to spread goodwill on many fronts, and we also have the unique situation where we already have an established, solid, positive relationship with the rangers for this area. Let's take advantage of this and put climbing and climbers in a positive light while helping to keep one of the crown jewels of southern climbing available to future climbers! It will take a lot of positive PR, and it will mean putting aside our personal feelings and not grousing about rules and regulations with which we do not fully agree, but if we rise above all of that and look at the larger picture rather than focusing on feeling as if we "deserve" access to a particular area, then our task at hand will be made easier.

Again, thank you for all of your help and support. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or would like to help with this effort.

Samantha Christen
Sunset Area Representative
Southeastern Climbers Coalition
By Samantha
Mar 26, 2008
Paul, good points, and thank you for your input. Another option for hiking in, particularly if you were looking to climb on the south end (Blonde Ambition/Jugular Vein/Treasure Chest/Celebrity Flake/ would be to park at Ochs Gateway trailhead just below Covenant College. It is a shorter hike than parking at Craven's House (though a longer drive, but then parking would most certainly not be an issue!), it is just as flat, and it's closer and less traveled than the main section of the Mountain Beautiful trail on which all of the available climbing lies.

Again, thanks for your thoughts and support. See you out climbing this summer!

By Joey Wolfe
Apr 1, 2008

Check it out, they are having a design contest.
By Samantha
Apr 1, 2008
Yup, that's right folks, we're havin' a contest! The text, which has been approved by the NPS and must be included/incorporated in the design, and other information can be found at

Up for grabs:

First place (the design that will go on the card and be distributed throughout the southeast and on the web) receives a brand new rope

Second place: a Metolius hang board

Third place: Sickle gear

So hone your design skills and put your bid in to get your art out there in the climbing public!

Samantha Christen
Sunset Area Representative
Southeastern Climbers Coalition
By clausti
Apr 2, 2008
Samantha- first of all I want to thank the SCC for all they do, but second, when/if you do put fliers on climbers cars, remember to include someone to stay till the end of the day to pick up the fliers that people will leave on the ground. I know that you shouldn't have to, but my experience is that unsolicited fliers for anything, anywhere, some percentage of them will end up on the ground.

Sorry to hear about the situation at Sunset, though I've never climbed there, I have wanted to. Sorry, also, if the above is stating the obvious.
By Samantha
Apr 2, 2008
clausti -

Thank you for your comments and support. Your suggestion is actually one that we have considered and for which we have made allowances. As I've mentioned several times on the SCC board, any and all suggestions, comments and gripes are welcome as without them, we as an organization would not be able to make progress, positive change and growth.

If you ever make it this way and want to check out Sunset, feel free to contact me.

Thanks again for your comments!

By Samantha
Apr 2, 2008
I received an email questioning the size of groups wanting to climb at Sunset.

The NPS response to the question is as follows:
John Housch's (NPS) response from meeting on March 29, 2008
Any organization or group planning an outing to Sunset Park with numbers higher than 10 individuals MUST call the NPS to obtain a permit prior to their arrival at the park; this includes members from clubs and organizations who travel in different vehicles. Again, if the number of individuals representing the organization for the day totals more than 10, a permit is required, regardless of whether or not they travel in the same or different vehicles. This would include club days (i.e.: club trips planned by gyms and clubs [/u]), college groups who show up after church and local high school climbing teams seeking experience on real rock during after school practice sessions.

Additionally, part of the permitting process requires that you be insured and with general liability insurance (just like in any other national park).

While the climbing regulations linked off of this site ( clearly state 10 people is the limit, we frequently see more than that, especially around the headwall.

I realize that this can be a particlarly touchy subject, but when your organization does not comply with the above stated regulations, then all of us are unfairly placed in a precarious position.

Please be respectful of your fellow climbers and set a good example for other groups wishing to enjoy this sensitive and fragile area.

Also, if you have any questions regarding this issue, please do not hesitate to contact John Housch (NPS) or myself.

Thank you,

Samantha Christen
Sunset Area Representative
Southeastern Climbers Coalition
By bbrock
From: Al
Apr 4, 2008
Due to the current situation, Sunset does not seem like the place for group climbing whether you have a permit or not. These groups are a total pain in the ass to everybody. Sorry if that sounds bad, but it is the truth. I can't think of anything worst for climber/landowner relations than group climbing trips other than backing my car up and unloading all my trash in the parking lot.
By Bill Duncan
From: Jamestown, CO
Apr 8, 2008
I also learned how to climb at Sunset back in the eighties. It is worth preserving access, even if the climbing community needs to make some accommodations. I love climbing with a group of friends, and I love having my dog along, but these are small things to give up in order to climb here. We have many other areas that we can enjoy on our own terms. It's not too much to ask to work with folks and police ourselves. If you see inconsiderate or loud behavior, respectfully inform the offenders of the current situation and ask for their help. Thanks to all that are working to preserve access.
By Justin Dansby
From: GA
Apr 21, 2008

Looks like this confirms it was at Sunset.
By Ronin
From: Smoke Hole Canyon
Apr 28, 2008
"...the park service cited numerous negative incidents involving climbers, including loudness (Sunset is in a residential area), blocking trails with ropes and gear, and unruly dogs."

First off, I've owned more than one dog in my life, and lived with more than a few. I love them IN THEIR PLACE, which is not at the crag. Period. Dogs do not understand staying on the trail, do not assist in climbing in any way, do not understand what "Rock!" means. They dig holes when they are hot. They chase game. They bark, their feces is one of the most biologicaly contaminating agents on the planet, they pee on the tires of other people's vehicles, and (speaking as a former EMT who has had to evac a few dog owners out of the bush) they are a danger and a general pain in the ass in an emergency situation.

Funny how the dogs thing gets tiptoed around these days. Here we have a situation where two of the problems cited are noise and unruly dogs, and no one is making the connection. NOTHING, short of the sound of a siren or gunfire, is as distracting, nerve-abrading, and out of place at a park preserved for the memory of the dead, at a crag or anywhere in "nature", as the barking of a dog.

Yes, I took my dog to the crag, ONCE. That single experience taught me just what a stupid, self-centered idea it was to drag an animal with no ability to actively participate in what I'm doing (whining, barking at other dogs and people, digging holes, and watching in bored disinterest, puzzlement, or distress is NOT actively participating, sorry) out into an unfamiliar setting (which has nothing to do with dogs or their appreciation), to insert it into the experience of other people who traveled just as far as I did or farther, many without their own pets, and none of whom came there to interface with someone else's pet. To then place that pet in harm's way, restrained while I enjoyed total freedom from care or owner responsibility, only to come down at the end of the day, with a total of about an hour of dog-owner interaction, walk fiteen minutes, play for half an hour, and then stuff my poor pet back into the car for a two-hour ride home struck me as selfish and cruel beyond any "rights" or benefits I could claim for either the dog or myself.

After that, I found someone to watch my dog while I climbed.

"My dog is quiet and well-behaved."

No dog is well-behaved all the time. I've owned two amazingly-well-behaved critters of my own, I'm a former SPCA volunteer who's cared for, sat, and seen hundreds of dogs in my life, and ALL OF THEM BARKED AT SOMETHING. Even if your dog is the paradigm of canine virtue, practicing the non-existant "right" to bring it to the crag means other people will follow suit. Not every dog brought to the crag has been voted "best crag dog" (which is an oxymoron, in my experienced opinion).

"That's the only time I have with my dog"

The answer there is, you made a very poor choice in having a dog, then. You need to decide whether you want to be a dog owner or an active climber. To be brutally blunt, the dog will not live forever. The crags can wait.

This is not the first, nor, I predict, will it be the last crag in America where dogs are listed as one of the primary reasons for pending closure or restrictions. Hire a dogsitter- if you can afford gas to the crag, a guidebook, quicks, a rack, and a rope, you can afford to put Fido in a kennel for the weekend, or buy a friend dinner for watching them. But please, please, PLEASE do not bring them to the crag.

And if you choose to do so, expect feedback on impact, closures, and rudeness for as long as you do. Unlike Pollyanna-oblivious self-centered pet ownership, freedom of speech IS a right.
By Amy Denicke
From: Aspen, CO
May 16, 2008
Get over yourself Ronin(?). Read Guideline #1 before you make a comment. My dog will be with me where dogs are welcome. Just because you have a large bark doesnt mean dogs dont belong climbing with their owners. I do agree that where trails are tight, like Sunset, dogs are not a good idea. My dog is the Best Crag Dog, even if it was just me that voted it. Go climb and be nice. Nothing worse than stepping in dog crap at the crag is running in to "those" people.

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