Nearly every weekend, rock climbers gather at Atlanta’s Boat Rock, a shady oasis of granite boulders tucked between sprawling roads and subdivisions. If not for Brad McLeod and the Southeastern Climbers Coalition, the nonprofit he cofounded in 1993, this wild pocket of Georgia might well have been lost.
In 2001, a developer began dynamiting the southwest Atlanta boulder field to make way for houses. “You can replant a tree,” McLeod says. “But you can’t replant or re-create a boulder. No one can.” So McLeod and the coalition, which at the time had less than $1,000, made a decision: They would buy the land. They raised $130,000, and today Boat Rock operates like a park—free, green, and open to all. Since then, the organization has won access to threatened climbing areas across the Southeast.
McLeod argues that everyone—not just climbers—should care about saving the South’s sandstone and granite, which he sees as just as precious as Appalachian hollers, giant swamps, and local fishing holes. “You see that same scenic and wild beauty,” he says. “A swamp to one person may not have any value, but to a duck hunter or a birder it has infinite value. A cliff has that intrinsic value too.” And the cliffs couldn’t ask for a better advocate. A forty-nine-year-old former Navy Seal, he has been engaged in nearly every battle the coalition has fought. “He’s not scared to call these guys and sweet-talk them into selling the property,” says Gus Fontenot, an Alabama attorney and the coalition’s vice president. An environmental consultant by day and a father, McLeod has less time to climb than he once did, but he loves to take his son, who’s as fascinated by the crags’ natural wonders as by the climbs themselves. “That little fern bog that’s at the base of the cliff, those salamanders,” McCleod says. “That’s what we could be losing.”