Aaron Parlier (’12 B.S. natural resources conservation and recreation) grew up scrambling over the boulders of Southwest Virginia. While a paratrooper in the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division, he took up rock climbing with a passion in his spare time, even setting up a climbing wall at his base in Afghanistan. The concentration required while determining his next toe- or finger-hold focused his thoughts and occupied him between dangerous assignments. “I credit climbing as the singular activity that kept me sane in Afghanistan,” Parlier said.

When Parlier left the Army in 2008, he wanted to combine his strong interests in the outdoors, rock climbing, and the environment into a career. He applied to the College of Natural Resources and Environment after earning an associate’s degree at Wytheville Community College. In Blacksburg, he introduced friends to bouldering, a form of rock climbing performed without ropes. He and his roommate outfitted their Foxridge apartment with hang boards for climbing, and he helped set up holds for a climbing gym that opened in Christiansburg.

In class, he listened intently when Adjunct Professor Jeff Marion described the negative environmental impact of informal trails made by bushwhacking hikers. Parlier decided that he would strive to keep rock climbing low impact and enlisted help from the climbing community for cleanup days and trail building projects.

“My education at Tech taught me so much about natural resources conservation and introduced me to the park system and environmental interpretation,” he said. “With this background, I began AmeriCorps service at Grayson Highlands State Park and worked as a park naturalist.”

Parlier received the Robert E. Wone National Service Award for his work at Grayson Highlands, where he used his bouldering expertise to recruit volunteers and construct a 1.3-mile trail to a boulder field to minimize user impact. He put in countless personal hours developing and mapping hundreds of climbing routes on the boulders. Parlier promoted the park through the rock climbing website mountainproject.com, his own website graysonhighlandsbouldering.com, and his book “Grayson Highlands Bouldering,” published in 2013. He recently developed a mobile bouldering guidebook app for the park, available at Rakkup.com.

“In my opinion, Grayson Highland’s massive boulders with their endless views make the best bouldering experience in all of the Southeast United States, in the warmer months,” he said. “You can see wild ponies grazing in the natural balds. The park is my place of solace, a place that will always feel like home.”

Parlier used the education award he received for his AmeriCorps service toward graduate studies at Appalachian State University, earning a master’s in Appalachian studies with a concentration in sustainable development in December 2014. He’s now working to start a climbing gym in Boone, North Carolina.