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Rec Center Climbing Gym: Key Points

The TCC has conducted more than 70 hours of research on climbing facilities around the country, identifying best practices and attributes that will ensure the climbing gym meets our community’s needs.

Current plans allocate 7,000 to 9,000 square feet for the Rec Center climbing gym. For context, the Enclosure climbing gym was 10,000 square feet.

Our research indicates the Rec Center climbing gym should be between 10,000 and 12,000 square feet. It furthermore indicates that a 5,750 square foot gym would create a negative user experience. This in turn would be a poor expenditure of taxpayer dollars.

Here’s why:

  • Climbing gyms are family friendly 
    • Parents and kids can participate together, creating a bonding experience that can last a lifetime.
    • Children who begin climbing improve rapidly, often outclimbing their parents within a few years of starting
  • Climbing gyms, done right, create a safe, healthy venue for youth 
    • If they are open after school, on the weekends and during times, such as summers, when schools are closed, they provide a trouble-free, positive alternative to other “entertainment” options.
    • A good gym will not only connect kids and parents. It will also connect kids to a healthy pursuit that will last the rest of their lives, to positive role models and to a lifestyle pathway that’s congruent with Jackson’s mountain legacy and traditions. 
  • Climbing engages the whole community
    • The climbing gym can serve as a catalyst to better connect with and understand our large immigrant Latino population. The boundaries of racial/cultural separation disappear once the rope is shared.
    • Our Latino community deserves to share in our outdoor adventures, our stories, and the transcendent power of the outdoors/ the creation of leaders and stewards.
  • A good gym will generate revenue that can support other Parks and Recreation amenities
    •  A good, properly sized gym will generate greater revenue (i.e., judicious expenditure of taxpayer dollars). A bad gym will generate less or lose money (i.e., waste of taxpayer dollars). 
    • The Enclosure Climbing Gym generated $500,000-700,000/year in revenue
    • Canmore’s Elevation Place community climbing center generates $100,000 in shoe and harness rentals alone
  • Climbing is social, which is healthy
    • A 2018 national survey by Cigna reported that loneliness levels have reached an all-time high, with nearly half of 20,000 U.S. adults reporting they sometimes or always feel alone. 
    • A meta-analysis, co-authored by Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, reports “loneliness and social isolation are twice as harmful to physical and mental health as obesity.”
    • Climbing gyms address both obesity and social isolation better than traditional gyms. They’re outstripping the fitness market for a reason: they’re fun—and they’re fun because they’re social.
  • Climbing is a key part of Jackson’s heritage and legacy
    •  Jackson is the epicenter of American mountaineering. Every town has rec centers, ball courts and fitness studios; none have the Tetons
    • The Boulder Park—a unique tribute to Jackson’s climbing heritage —is the most popular amenity in Parks and Recreation’s catalogue
  • Climbing’s popularity is exploding
    • From 2012-2017, the growth of the indoor climbing wall industry was 39% greater than that of the gym, health, and fitness clubs industry over the same period.
    • In the last couple of years, the debut of films like The Dawn Wall and the Oscar-Award winning Free Solo has only accelerated that growth
    • Climbing will make its debut in the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021. According to the industry research company IBIS, this “is anticipated to accelerate interest in climbing, driving demand for indoor climbing wall operators.”
  • Climbing gyms enhance safety for guides, rangers, Search and Rescue and regular climbers alike
    • A well-designed gym permits guides, climbing rangers and search and rescue team members with a place to practice rescue scenarios
    • Beginning climbers can learn the skills and techniques necessary for safe outings in the crags and mountains around town

Making gyms fun, family friendly and social requires a key ingredient: space. A 5,750 sq. ft. gym is too small. 

  • The Enclosure Climbing Gym had 10,000 square feet of climbing space. When it closed in 2014, it had 700 members and had up to 50-100 people in the facility at any given time.
  • Canada’s premier mountaineering town, Canmore, has a population of 13,992. Its gym, Elevation Place, which opened in 2013 as part of the community’s rec center, offers 11,000 square feet of climbing surface. Because it’s in a community center, Elevation Place has thousands of members. 
    • “We should have made our gym bigger because there’s always a wait list,” said Brian Spear, the Climbing Coordinator for the Town of Canmore.  “It’s too busy for a positive experience, so we make them wait. People who work M-F 9-5 are always on the waitlist.”
  • Community space is one of the most important considerations for a gym. The best gyms design the climbing experience around the social experience. (“If you look at any gym in any moment, 75% of people are just hanging out. It’s social.)
  • Open designs yield the best community/social experience, as well as better route-setting access and better flow.
  • A well-designed gym that incorporates community space can use the space for events, film screenings, music, art, and other community gatherings

Let’s give our community the climbing gym it deserves.