Access Fund excitedly announced that Breaks Interstate Park, which sits across the southwest Virginia/southeast Kentucky line, is now officially open to rock climbing. One of only a few interstate parks in the country, Breaks is a unique bi-state park encompassing 4,600 acres of rugged, mountainous terrain.
Know to locals as “Breaks”, the area has a history of climbing going back at least three decades, however climbing has never been officially allowed or sanctioned by a park management plan. The canyon is lined with miles of orange and grey sandstone walls similar to those of nearby Obed Wild and Scenic River in Tennessee and the New River Gorge in West Virginia. Breaks already contains approximately 75 established climbing routes, with potential for hundreds more.
“Breaks is a truly fantastic and extensive sandstone climbing resource. Having the park officially opened to climbing is great news for climbers as well as the nearby communities who will benefit from increased tourism,” says Access Fund Southeast Regional Director Zachary Lesch-Huie.
Breaks Interstate Park began to formally consider rock climbing in 2013 during a master planning process. Local climber Kylie Schmidt was instrumental in bringing the park’s climbing opportunities to the attention of the park manager and commission. “I realized that Breaks, my home area, had great climbing potential, so I reached out and started talking with the park,” says Schmidt.
Joining Kylie’s efforts, Access Fund partnered with Southwest Virginia Climbers Coalition (SVCC) and community stakeholders to advocate for climbing access and help the park with climbing management strategies. The park put a draft master plan out for comment, and public input was overwhelmingly supportive of rock climbing at Breaks. In early 2015, the commission approved climbing as a part of the park’s new 30-year master plan. Soon after, Access Fund submitted a draft climbing management plan, based on input from the park, climbers, and other stakeholders. A newly formed Climbing Advisory Group finalized this plan and park climbing policies in April of this year.
“We applaud the park’s outstanding commitment to collaboration and planning,” says Lesch-Huie. “We’ve struck a great balance between climbing access and resource protection, and this has been one of the most successful land manager-climber partnerships I’ve been a part of.”
Alongside exceptional recreation opportunities, the park is home to important plant and wildlife resources, including some rare species of national or state significance. The cliff environments are home to rare plant communities, as well as one of Virginia’s most important peregrine falcon breeding grounds. The park, climbers, and natural resource specialists worked together to create management policies that will protect sensitive natural resources, while still allowing climbing access. The park’s final climbing plan restricts access to certain cliff areas in order to protect specific habitats and areas of concern. Following the example of other state and national parks around the country, a seasonal cliff closure area was also put in place around the park’s known peregrine falcon nest site.
“Breaks is home to critically important plants and wildlife. We took a very careful, balanced approach to natural resource protection and climbing access,” says Austin Bradley, Park Superintendent. “And we are very excited to welcome rock climbers and add climbing to our park’s many outstanding recreational opportunities.”
Interested in climbing at Breaks? Climbers are required to stop by the visitor center or lodge to get a free climbing permit. Climbing is only open in approved areas of the park, not park-wide. Climbing route information is available at www.mountainproject.com.