Feature Article - April 2008
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Scaling New Heights

Harness the Popularity of Climbing to Take Your Facility to the Top

By Kelli Anderson


Boulder-dash

Perhaps climbing's most amazing ability is to bridge the greatest divide of them all—the generation gap. Whether it's something that goes back to our deepest ancestral roots of the jungle or just to the more recent past of our own childhood, climbing attracts just about every person imaginable. But it doesn't take a 40-foot sculptural monolith to get their attention.

When the parks and recreation department of Kyle, Texas, added a climbing structure that mimicked the look and feel of a real boulder to one of its parks, they were not expecting the response it created.

"The very first day after we installed the boulder we had kids of all ages climbing it," said Kerry Urbanowicz, director of Kyle Parks and Recreation. "The very first person was a 23-year-old woman who just had to try it out! If I go out to the park right this moment, I will find someone on it, guaranteed. It's a huge draw for the park."

The boulder's popularity was so strong, in fact, that lights were installed to permit kids of all ages to enjoy it until the park closes each night. Now, with 12 climbing boulders installed around the city so far, the park district is committed to having one in each of its parks.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, the response was the same. After checking out other parks and noticing that climbing was the go-to spot for kids, the city of Corpus Christi decided to give it a try.

"Boulders are great. They're attractive to kids because it's a challenge—but it's not just the kids," said Billy Delgado, superintendent of parks and special projects for the city. "It's the dads showing they can still do it. Ever since we installed them, we see more and more children and families going. That's rewarding."

And it only stands to reason that the popularity and ease of use for such exterior structures would lend themselves to interior and programming applications too. Bouldering is growing by leaps and bounds.

"Bouldering is huge and on the increase," said David Chambers, the assistant director of the student recreation center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. "It's kind of a no-ropes, minimal-equipment alternative, which is all about power, strength and balance. People can do it on their own."

Part of that shift to bouldering has a lot to do with the social component the new caliber of climbers bring to the scene.

"There's been a move to a social environment," said Adam Koberna, vice president of a climbing wall manufacturing company. "That's a big part of it—to create a social space—and in that, bouldering is number one."

As little as three years ago such manufacturers had to educate clients about the benefits to be found from long and low bouldering designs, but not anymore. Customers, especially non-climbers (read: facility managers) are requesting them up front and often.