The New River Alliance of Climbing was awarded the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Excellence in Partnership Award during a ceremony held at Summersville Lake on September 7, 2023.
The Excellence in Partnerships Award annually recognizes exceptional contributions by a partner supporting the Recreation and/or Environmental Stewardship programs. The award recipient is selected based on accomplishment of management objectives, creativity, improvements in public awareness and education, serving diverse audiences and involvement of other partners.
“NRAC was selected for the Excellence in Partnership Award for their steadfast commitment to Summersville Lake,” said Heather Burke, USACE Partnership Advisory Committee. “The lake has benefited in many ways since formally partnering with NRAC in 2019.”
Summersville Lake hosts over 500 rock climbing routes located at nine different locations around the Lake. One of the most popular climbing areas is Orange Oswald, which has one of the finest lineups of sport routes in the nation. Unfortunately, access to this climb was diminishing as the shoreline portion of the trail to Orange Oswald had eroded away from the wave action of the lake and efforts to stabilize this shoreline only provided temporary relief. The lack of access for heavy equipment prompted the search for a more inventive, permanent solution. Floating barges were used to float an excavator, skid steer, and large amounts of stone across the lake to prepare a base and fill a three-course gabion basket retaining wall. It took almost three years to complete the project, due to the 77-foot rise and fall between summer and winter pool. Additionally, remote trail limitations to Orange Oswald forced thousands of users to brave a 20-foot sheer cliff by way of an antiquated wooden ladder.
“These two projects were complicated, multi-pronged efforts that included the construction of shoreline stabilization walls and trails with staircases and areas to allow hikers and climbers to use the area without further impacting vegetation,” said Matt Carpenter, President of NRAC. “An excellent partnership includes at least two organizations, and we could not have completed either of these projects without their contributions and leadership throughout.”
Not only was NRAC able to complete both of these projects, but they also contributed $60,000 in funding, provided $50,000 in volunteer services and generated over $100,000 in environmental stewardship value to Summersville Lake. USACE and NRAC partner to create sustainable use and continued access to the climbing opportunities along the stunning sandstone cliffs of Summersville Lake. The lake has seen the launch of a multi-lateral partnership between local and national non-profits, federal and state entities, as well as the local community; all in the name of environmental stewardship through education and public outreach.
The members of the NRAC team were grateful for the award, but wanted to make sure everyone understood the importance of all the partnerships involved with these projects.
“We can't stress enough that this award recognizes not just NRAC's efforts, but those of the Army Corps and our many other partners,” said Carpenter. “Numerous local individuals, businesses, and regional climbing gyms contributed by sponsoring our projects.”
The efforts to mitigate the shoreline erosion at Orange Oswald were so successful, that enough support was raised to start a very similar project located at another popular and heavily used area at Summersville Lake named Whippoorwill in the fall of 2022. The first phase of the Whippoorwill Restoration Project was completed in a single weekend by the massive volunteer efforts of NRAC with support from the USACE Summersville Lake Staff in September of 2022. NRAC was able to enlist over 40 volunteers to carry stone from the lakebed in order to fill 32 gabion baskets necessary to protect the shoreline from excessive boat traffic that creates non-stop wave action near the main channel of the lake.
“One of the things made this partnership stand out was the ‘grassroots’ start where USACE and NRAC worked together on one project and then built on to it with many coordinated and large volunteer days,” said Burke. “The partnership is strong and seems to have a bright future of continued growth.”
The USACE Partnership Advisory Committee said the efforts of NRAC to mitigate shoreline erosion at Summersville Lake have generated over $100,000 in environmental stewardship value and $50,000 in volunteer services for USACE over the past few years with their completed project at Orange Oswald and ongoing work with the Whippoorwill Restoration Project. This is an essential value that without a doubt would not exist without the passionate volunteers of NRAC and the diligent work that they do to make Summersville Lake a better place.
“We have to thank our amazing supportive community of volunteers who pulled off these amazing feats of strength and engineering without any major incidents,” said Carpenter. “We are all NRAC!”