Photo courtesy of Zachary Lesch-Huie.
Volunteers clean up trails and rocks in the Moss Rock Boulder Fields.
Graffiti had increased and walkways were washing away at Moss Rock Preserve, but it turns out it was nothing a little hard work and Elephant Snot couldn’t fix. But more on that Elephant Snot later.
Friends of Moss Rock Preserve and other volunteers spent their Saturdays in June and July assisting Chip Powell and Lindsey Anderson of Access Fund to remove graffiti, reinforce a trail network and combat erosion at the Moss Rock Boulder Fields.
Access Fund, a Boulder, Colorado-based climbing organization, announced in May that it was partnering with the Southeastern Climbers Coalition to use a grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham to begin a three-year stewardship initiative. The initiative, meant to improve climbing areas in the region, is called the Greater Birmingham Climbing Resource Improvement Project.
“Moss Rock Preserve is a really historic boulder area in the Deep South, and this seemed like a great opportunity to partner with an area we have some history with,” said Ty Tyler, Access Fund’s national stewardship director.
While the boulder fields are only four of 349 acres at Moss Rock, they receive 99 percent of the preserves’ use, said Collin Conner, Hoover city forester. Since the city took over the preserve in the early 2000s, the once “hidden jewel” grew in popularity over time, leading to deterioration and graffiti spread across the boulders.
On June 4, Powell and Anderson, who are the Access Fund-Jeep Conservation Team No. 2, hosted their first Adopt a Crag volunteer day at Moss Park. A group of 16 volunteers combined to remove 110 square feet of graffiti using a biodegradable chemical called Elephant Snot and restored 120 linear feet of social trail. The volunteer days continued every Saturday through June, cleaning up hundreds of square feet more.
Conner said he recognized graffiti removal was the largest focus needed to begin the project to restore a family-friendly environment and provided a pressure washer and other assistance from the city.
Local climber Jeremy Thomas, who learned to climb at Moss Rock as a boy in the early 1990s, said he was excited to see the cleanup work when he visited the boulder fields in late June.
“Most of your climbers who live in Alabama started right there,” he said. “I’m glad they’re doing it because I don’t want to take my 12-year-old daughter down there and see the F-word and pot leaves spray-painted all over the rocks.”
Aside from graffiti cleanup, the conservation team moved rocks and used other natural materials to define trails and improve erosion control infrastructure and stormwater quality.
“You’d be amazed the amount of work the two of them can turn out. They’re doing it by hand — breaking rock, rolling it downhill by hand and setting it in place by hand,” Conner said. “It feels better when it looks as it should and kind of how it is created. It gives it a better overall experience.”
The three-year project completed its first phase July 16 as Powell and Anderson moved on to a 12-week project in Salt Lake City. Another conservation team will return to the Birmingham area for one week in October for a planned project at the Trussville Sports Complex. The team will return to Alabama in March 2017 for a 10-week stay, working in Trussville, Palisades Park in Blount County and a four-week stint at Moss Rock. The project will conclude in early 2018 with another 10-week stretch at Palisades, and then will move on to Steele before returning to finalize work at Moss Rock.
“The Greater Birmingham region really has some great climbing opportunities,” Tyler said. “We want to highlight those opportunities and encourage people to get outside, get involved and learn a little more about rock climbing. We see this as an opportunity to expand some use and encourage people to visit the area.”
Conner said the project already has re-inspired the climbing community to volunteer and hopes the city will maintain the work done this summer. Those interested in volunteering can email Ken Wills of the Friends of Moss Rock at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 515-9412.