Fiery Gizzard’s Denny Cove to be new climbing and hiking destination

Authored By bobbutters

Climbers and hikers will soon have access to a new area of the Fiery Gizzard in Marion County. The Access Fund and Southeastern Climbers Coalition recently announced the acquisition of 685 acres at Denny Cove, located between Foster Falls and Castle Rock, two popular climbing destinations in the area.

The two organizations worked in partnership with South Cumberland State Park, the Land Trust for Tennessee and The Conservation Fund to bring about the preservation of this wild and undeveloped tract. Other organizations supporting the project were Friends of South Cumberland, the Lyndhurst Foundation, the Riverview Foundation and the Open Space Institute.

Local climbers exploring Denny Cove a few years ago discovered it had great potential for climbing, with about 150 climbing routes available on nearly 3 miles of cliffs. A long-term plan was initiated for purchasing the property from a private owner for permanent protection and climbing access.

According to SCC Executive Director Cody Roney, Denny Cove is their largest project to date in terms of acres, climbing routes, project partners and funding.

“It took all of our organizations coming together to protect Denny Cove,” Roney said. “It’s a testament of what climbers can do when we team up with the state and other like-minded conservation groups. As a climbing resource, it’s probably one of the better cliffs in the Southeast.”

The property also includes a 70-foot waterfall and scenic overlooks. While rock climbing may be the primary recreational use of the property, there are plans to construct trails to the waterfall and scenic overlooks, and to have primitive campsites. The SCC is scheduled to transfer ownership of the property to South Cumberland State Park in January. But they will continue being involved through managing the climbing resource, hosting trail days, and working as a liaison between climbers and the park system.

Conservation value 
The preservation of Denny Cove, with its scenic views and critical plant and wildlife habitat, is an important component of ongoing conservation efforts in the region. The Fiery Gizzard, of which Denny Cove is a part, is identified as having at least 20 rare plant and animal species considered a high priority for protection.

“This extraordinary conservation effort complements the extensive work we have already done in the Fiery Gizzard, assisting with the protection of more than 6,200 acres in one of the most intact, biologically diverse landscapes remaining in the eastern United States,” said Ralph Knoll, Tennessee representative for The Conservation Fund. 

Land Trust for Tennessee’s Joel Houser said: “It’s not all about snails and wildflowers. I think that bringing in the human recreation piece is going to do nothing but help conservation efforts in the region.” 

Creating another area that will attract climbers will help the mission to protect and conserve these areas, according to South Cumberland State Park Ranger John Ball.

Officials hope that future conservation efforts will succeed in connecting Denny Cove with Foster Falls and other conserved lands along the Fiery Gizzard.

Public access and involvement
Work is currently underway at the site to improve the access road, create a parking lot and build trails. For now, the only way to obtain access is to volunteer for workdays, which take place Saturdays through October. Volunteers spend four to five hours doing trail work, then have the rest of the day to explore. The public won’t be allowed open access until the trails are completed. There seems to be some uncertainty as to exactly when that will be, but it is hoped by later in the fall.

While initial funding for the $1.2 million purchase was raised from a variety of public and private sources, SCC still needs to acquire $200,000 over the next three years to complete the purchase. Click here if you’d like to donate to the project or to sign up for trail work. For questions about Denny Cove or Denny Days (as trail workdays are called), contact [email protected].

Bob Butters explores nature and the outdoors, primarily in and near the South Cumberland region, and publishes the blog The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.