Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Climbing the Walls: Finding Routes to Lure Climbers

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Climbing the Walls: Finding Routes to Lure Climbers

Article excerpt

"It was like a bunch of ants at a picnic," That's how Steve Ashworth, director of parks and recreation in the town of Jackson, Wyoming, describes the opening day of the town's Teton Boulder Park, which opened in October 2010. "You'll see people out there even when it's snow-covered."

Climbing, perhaps the ultimate outdoor sport, was largely adopted by park and recreation agencies as an indoor activity. Now things are moving back outside with the opening of two large, free, public, outdoor climbing facilities in Jackson and Columbus, Ohio.

"It's been interesting to see, primarily because of the scale of those walls," Chris Danielson, a consultant with THREAD Climbing Wall Consultation, says. "They're closer to the scale of a commercial facility in terms of the amount of terrain."

Boulders are shorter climbing structures that do not require ropes. Danielson says these facilities are more youth-oriented than geared to the rugged outdoorsman. Teton Boulder Park features a "Kids' Rock" and the world's largest artificial boulder, a ship-shaped, boxcar-sized rock nicknamed the "S.S. Badass." Its 12-foot height was determined by the limits of the impact-resilient surfacing in the park. Ashworth says the boulder park is not supervised and is managed much like a playground. Fundraising is underway for a third structure, to be called "Pioneers' Boulder."

Mountains within Mountains

Why build artificial boulders in a town surrounded by mountains? "We've been asked that question," Ashworth chuckles. It can be hard to get out into the back country, and quality natural structures are not accessible to multiple skill levels, he explains. "Here we have a multiskill-set multigenerational environment where young and old can help each other, where beginning and advanced can work together side by side," he explains.


The park was conceived by a group of five passionate climbers, and over the course of a year it evolved from plans for a single tiny boulder to an entire climbing complex located in Phil Baux Park at the foot of Snow King Mountain, Ashworth says. Christian Beckwith, one of the citizens involved with the project, says, "We worked closely with the Teton County Parks and Recreation Department from conception onward. The private/public model allowed climbers to dictate elements essential to their needs.... We came up with the vision; they managed the execution. As a result, we have a park that is considered absolutely authentic by its primary user group, that adheres to all recreation guidelines, and that serves as a paradigm of public/ private ventures going forward."

Besides the boulders, the park features a playground, amphitheater style seating, and a planned retaining wall that will describe some of the most significant climbing achievements in the Tetons. Echoing a mysterious Native American structure called the Enclosure near the summit of Grand Teton, a circular arrangement of 21 stone slabs memorializes those climbers who have been lost to the mountains.

"One of the things that is really strong in this community and a real foundation is the climbing heritage," Ashworth explains. "What a great thing to be able to tell that story and to get people involved in climbing."

According to Danielson, public recreation facilities are traditionally where many people have been introduced to climbing. However, just as outside climbers may seek new challenges in new destinations, even indoor public climbing walls can lure return climbers through route rotation. …

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