MOUTH OF WILSON, Va. (WJHL) – Climbers and hikers visiting Grayson Highlands might recognize a house-sized boulder that towers over nearby trails. To bouldering enthusiasts — fans of the high-intensity offshoot of rock climbing that focuses on masses of stone from five to fifteen feet tall – the landmark is known as the AVP Boulder. For the staff of Access Fund, an organization dedicated to expanding and protecting public climbing areas, that boulder was the focus of years worth of work.
“Climbers have been there historically for many, many years,” said Daniel Dunn, southeast regional manager for the Access Fund. “Probably going back 20 years at least.”
According to a release from the Central Appalachia Climbers Coalition (CACC) and Access Fund, a land parcel 29 acres in size containing the boulder was situated just next to Grayson Highlands State Park.
“The property owners didn’t actually know that the boulder was on their land,” Dunn said. “I think everyone just sort of assumed it was on state park land and that the access was secured through that.”
In 2016, however, a survey revealed that the boulder was on private property, and landowners closed the site. Shortly afterward, the entire lot was listed for sale.
To protect the site and maintain access to the boulder, the CACC asked the sellers to carve off a roughly $14,000 slice of land bordering Grayson Highlands State Park with road access. That purchase was finished in 2017 with the help of Access Fund, and a multi-faceted effort from CACC volunteers got the 1.3-acre site ready for a donation to the park.
“For us, this was a big win not only to protect the rock climbing area but also to protect a little piece of open space,” Dunn said. “It might only be 1.3 acres, but it’s really valuable to rock climbers and is a small part of the larger conservation that goes into the state park lands.”
A big part of the group’s excitement stems from the long-term care that the state will take to preserve the site. Now that it’s in the Virginia state park system, the land will be maintained for generations to come.
“It’s huge, I mean this is the ultimate goal for Access Fund and CACC,” Dunn said. “Permanent protection of climbing areas, and so this is really what we work for on all of our projects. Finding out about these projects and getting them to this layer of protection.”
For those that haven’t visited the titular boulder, Dunn said it offers a challenge for climbers of every skill level. The single site provides over 20 different scrambles, and Dunn hopes it will draw new crowds to the region to find a new side of Appalachia’s challenging geography.
“Some of these areas are coal country or have been more distressed economically,” Dunn said. “They have a lot of natural resources, boulders being one of them. It’s an area that there’s a lot of exploration to be done still.”