New River Gorge's Bubba City is climber friendly
FAYETTEVILLE, W.Va. -- Climber access to more than two miles of the popular Bubba City cliff line in the New River Gorge National River has been secured through an easement agreement between the New River Alliance of Climbers, the Access Fund and the Wild Rock West Virginia residential community.
Under the terms of the agreement, NRAC volunteers will maintain a 15-vehicle parking lot and trailhead area off Chestnutburg Road within the 630-acre Wild Rock West Virginia development. The parking lot and trailhead area serve as the access point to a series of existing trails within the development. The Wild Rock trails connect with trails within the adjacent New River Gorge National River that provide access to Bubba City's 340 climbing routes.
"This is some of the best climbing rock you'll find anywhere," said NRAC member Kenny Parker. "It's really hard and not crumbly."
"For cragging, it's as good as it gets," said Gene Kistler, NRAC president, and, with Parker, the co-owner of the Water Stone Outdoors climbing shop in Fayetteville. "With so much cliff line, there's a lot of diversity in the routes you find here."
Each year, thousands of climbers from across the country travel to Fayette County to scale Bubba City's Nuttall sandstone cliffs.
"On a nice day, you can see 20 to as many as 50 climbing parties at a time there," Kistler said.
Parker said the cliff formation's name could be traced to a discarded can of Bubba Cola found at the site, and a desire to bring more down-home-sounding names to the climbing routes being identified in the New River Gorge.
"In those days, most of the groups climbing here came from Pennsylvania, Virginia and Ohio," Parker said. "Rick Thompson, who kind of led the Pennsylvania group, wrote the first climbing guidebook for the Gorge. Some of the route names found in that old guide were pretty mellifluous-sounding, and some in the Virginia crew started to think the Pennsylvanians were taking themselves a little too seriously."
So when Parker made the first ascent of a buttress section of the formation just below what is now Wild Rock in 1987, he noted the presence of the Bubba Cola can at the base of the cliff and named his route Face It, Bubba. Subsequent routes bore such names as Bubba Bath, Bubba-Weiser, Leave It to Bubba and Bubba-Cide. In all, 44 routes in the cliff formation contain the name "Bubba."
Climbers discovered the New River Gorge in the early 1970s, and since that time, the canyon has become one of the nation's top destinations for rock climbing. Climbing routes also can be found in the nearby Gauley River and Meadow River canyons, and the cliffs surrounding Summersville Lake.
Carl Frischkorn, founder of Wild Rock, said the easement makes official an informal arrangement in which climbers and other members of the public have been allowed to use the development's trails. The easement agreement provides an additional layer of risk management, he said, and strengthens the homesite community's approach to sustainability.
"We view sustainability not only in terms of light-touch building and living practices, but also in how we are partnering with our neighbors to promote access to the outdoors," Frischkorn said. "We are proud to partner with NRAC and the Access Fund to help ensure that visiting and local climbers have unfettered paths to Bubba City."
The easement agreement, drafted with the assistance of Nathan Fetty, managing attorney for West Virginia University's Land Use and Sustainable Development Law Clinic, keeps climber access through Wild Rock's property open for five years, with the option to renew at that time or make the arrangement permanent.
The easement "serves as a template for how climbers and private landowners can partner to protect public access," said Joe Sambataro, director of access for the Access Fund.
The parking lot and trails at Wild Rock are open during daytime hours only. Dog owners using the trails are asked to keep their pets on a leash.
"Wild Rock has delivered on a promise to help preserve public recreational access through their land and into the Gorge," Sambataro said. "This is a big first step toward securing long-term access to the climbing at Bubba City and sets a great example for park-adjacent development."
Reach Rick Steelhammer at email@example.com or 304-348-5169.