Date of Award

Spring 5-2015

Degree Type

Honors College Thesis


Geography and Geology

First Advisor

David H. Holt

Advisor Department

Geography and Geology


Popularity for non-consumptive outdoor recreations has rapidly increased over the past decades. With many national and state park regulations failing to regulate rock climbing, scholars are concerned for the amount of ecological disturbance that may occur if left unmonitored. Visual assessments to disturbance disparities between remote climbing locales and contradictory scientific literature confirmed the need for further research on the effects of rock climbing on cliff ecology. Two climbing centers were focused in Southeastern Tennessee: Foster Falls in Sequatchie County and Leda in Hamilton County. Convenience sampling was used to collect 24 transects from intermediately graded routes and 24 transects from cliffs that visually appear physically suitable for rock climbing, but were neither mentioned in any guides nor had any evidence of climbing. IBM SPSS was used to perform the nonparametric Mann-Whitney U Tests (α = 0.05) on the climbing frequency group (i.e., climbed and unclimbed) and location group (i.e., climbed cliff heights); these results were then confirmed by calculating bivariate correlations. Statistics suggest that rock climbing significantly decreases vascular and nonvascular plant cover and significantly increases bare rock cover. Additionally, no differences were observed among cliff heights. Our findings are intended as a viable source to be used by park and wildlife management as an aid in determining whether or not rock climbing should be regulated; however, we suggest further study regarding different phonological stages, endangered species, invasive species, and specified climbing centers of interest.