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Top 10 Reasons We Should Make the Climbing Gym Big Enough

Key to a gym that can serve the entire community is enough space. The Enclosure Climbing Gym, which had 700 members when it closed in 2014, had 10,000 square feet of climbing area.

Current plans for the Rec Center climbing gym call for ca. 7,000 to 9,000 square feet overall, which translates to ca. 5,000 to 7,000 square feet of climbing area.

Here are our Top 10 reasons the Rec Center climbing gym needs to be AT LEAST as big as the Enclosure was:

10. A good climbing gym will provide physical and mental health benefits that last a lifetime

  • People go to gyms out of guilt. They climb because it’s fun. Fun is a stronger motivator than guilt.
  • Climbing is a lifetime sport. You can do it when you’re 8, and you can do it when you’re 80.
  • Key to a fun gym experience is enough space. A 7,000- to 9,000-sq. ft. gym is too small.

9. A gym smaller than 10,000 square feet will necessitate a waiting list during peak hours

  • 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.

8. Climbing gyms are family friendly. Making gyms family friendly requires a key ingredient: enough space.

  • Climbing gyms are fun for parents and kids alike. When families climb together, it creates a bonding experience that can last a lifetime.
  • Rich Johnston, President of Vertical World, Inc., notes, “This morning a member called me—he has a daughter who just got into climbing. He said, you know, we do all sorts of sports. I can sit in the bleachers and watch her play soccer. It’s not engaging. Climbing is the best family thing we’ve done.
  • “It’s very, very family oriented. There are very few spots where the parents can hang out with their kids and do the sport together. It has an amazing impact on the family dynamic. I hear that all the time.”
  • A 7,000- to 9,000-sq. ft. gym is too small to be family friendly.

7. Climbing is fun because it’s social—and social is healthy

  • 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.”
  • Rich Johnston notes, “If you look at any gym in any given moment, 75% of people are just hanging out. It’s social.”
  • 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.
  • A gym that’s social requires enough space. A 7,000- to 9,000-sq. ft. gym is too small to create a good social experience.

6. The bigger the gym, the better the community experience

  • 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
  • Key to a good gym is enough space. A 7,000- to 9,000-sq. ft. gym is too small.

6. A good climbing gym will engage the whole community

  • People interact in a climbing gym. The boundaries of generational, cultural and racial separation disappear once the rope is shared
  • Climbing rangers, guides, search and rescue members and youth alike will use  the gym, creating stronger connections within the community
  • Our Latinx community members will use the gym, too, helping to change the cultural narrative of who’s outside in Jackson Hole, and opening doors to the creation of future outdoor leaders and stewards.
  • Key to engaging the entire community is a good gym. Key to a good gym is enough space. A 7,000- to 9,000-sq. ft. gym is too small.

5. A good gym will enhance safety for guides, rangers, Search and Rescue and regular climbers alike

  • A good gym will provide guides, climbing rangers and search and rescue team members with a place to practice techniques and rescue scenarios
  • A good gym will allow beginning climbers to learn the skills and techniques necessary for safe adventures in the crags and mountains, reducing the human and financial costs of accidents
  • Key to a good gym is enough space. A gym that’s too small won’t enhance safety as much as a adequately sized gym

4. A good gym will generate revenue that can support other Parks and Recreation programs and amenities

  • The current Parks and Rec building recovers less than a third of its cost
  • 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
  • The bigger the gym, the more revenue it will generate to offset other Parks and Rec programming

3. A good gym will honor Jackson Hole’s legacy as the epicenter of American mountaineering

  • Every town has rec centers with ball courts and fitness studios; no one else has the Tetons, or our climbing legacy
  • The Teton Boulder Park is not only a unique tribute to Jackson’s climbing heritage. It’s the most popular amenity in Parks and Recreation’s catalogue
  • A community with a great climbing legacy should have a great gym. Key to a great gym is enough space.

2. A good gym will create a safe, healthy venue for youth 

  • Afterschool activities in Teton County are limited, which opens the door to unhealthy, unsafe activities.
  • Kids love to climb. A good climbing gym will provide positive options for youth activities after school, on weekends and during school holidays
  • Key to a good gym is enough space. A 7,000- to 9,000-sq. ft. gym will be too crowded to be fun, for kids as well as for adults

And the Number 1 Reason the Rec Center Climbing Gym should be bigger is…

1. The Rec Center climbing gym will have more users than The Enclosure did.

  • The Enclosure Climbing Gym, which had 700 members when it closed in 2014, had 10,000 square feet of climbing area.
  • Climbing’s popularity has exploded since The Enclosure closed.
  • The Rec Center’s downtown location will attract more tourists that the Enclosure did.
  • More people will use the Rec Center climbing gym than The Enclosure because it’s a public facility

Let’s make our climbing gym great, for this and future generations!

Make the Climbing Gym Big Enough: Sign the Petition!

Thanks to the many, many advocates in our community, we delivered 80 letters of support for a bigger climbing gym to our elected officials. To everyone who wrote in, thanks for your support!

You may have seen this week’s article about the retention of a climbing wall consultant for the gym. This is great news, as it will ensure considerations for the gym are integrated into the larger expansion from the start.

Our window for influencing the size of the gym, though, is closing. We’re making one final push for a gym that’s big enough to meet the needs of the community with this petition.

We have two favors to ask:

  1. Would you sign the petition?
  2. Would you ask a friend (or two) to sign it as well?

On behalf of the entire climbing community, thanks for your help!

Click here to sign the petition.

Entre Prises Hired as Independent Climbing Gym Consultant

The very first recommendation the TCC made to Parks and Rec regarding the community climbing gym was to retain an independent climbing gym consultant as early in the gym’s development as possible.

We’re pleased to announce that this week, our elected officials approved Entre Prises as the climbing wall consultant for the Rec Center climbing gym.

TCC board members Marion Meyers and Bob McLaurin participated in the vetting process for the consultant company. As Meyers wrote, “The TCC and community members are very pleased to have an independent climbing consultant to collaborate with the consultant team and to engage community members in the early stages of the design process. The independent consultant will look at creative optimal use of space and the best use of taxpayer dollars without having a stake in construction of a specific climbing wall style or company.

“Early collaboration on design will assist with creating a gym for a wide variety of community users,” she continued, “including families and their children, students, visitors, and the local climbing community.”

Read the article on the process that resulted in the retention of Entre Prises here.

Please join us in thanking Parks and Rec Director Steve Ashworth for moving forward on the recommendation and for including TCC board members in the vetting process. Additional thanks goes to Teton County Commissioner Greg Epstein for his due diligence in inquiring about community support of the Teton County Parks and Rec RFP process for the expansion.

We look forward to continuing to collaborate with our elected officials and with Parks and Rec on the development of a climbing gym that meets the community’s needs, today and in the future.

Write a Letter of Support for the Rec Center Gym

Dear Teton Climber,

In the November 2019 election, Teton County voters approved $22,000,000, via the SPET initiative’s Proposition #9, for an expansion of the Teton County/Jackson Recreation Center.  

This expansion includes a community climbing gym. Town and county decision makers are now making final decisions about various elements of the gym, including its size.

The Teton Climbers Coalition (TCC) is advocating for adequate space in the gym to meet our community’s needs. Current plans for the gym call for ca. 9,000 square feet overall, including restrooms and check-in desks. This translates to roughly 7,000 square feet of climbing area. 

The Enclosure Climbing Gym, which closed in 2014, had 10,000 square feet of climbing area. It also had 700 annual members, and 50-100 people in the facility at any given time.

Given the increase in Teton County’s population and in climbing’s popularity, as well as the number of users a public facility—particularly one located close to downtown tourist traffic—will attract, it is safe to assume the Rec Center climbing gym will have more users than The Enclosure did.

For this reason, the TCC is advocating for a MINIMUM of 10,000 to 12,000 square feet of climbing area.

To demonstrate that there is community support for a climbing gym with sufficient space, TCC is soliciting letters from folks like you: family members, businesses, non-profits, and local climbers. 

Hence, we ask that you please take a minute, draw on the boilerplate text below (or use these key takeaways to compose your your own letter), and express your support for the gym in writing. Please send your letter on your letterhead to info@tetonclimbers.com.  

The TCC will compile all letters received and share them with Teton County Parks and Rec, as well as Town and County elected officials. 

Please dash off a letter and send it at your earliest convenience. 

Thank you. 

Sincerely,

The Teton Climbers’ Coalition

 

 —————————————————————————— 

Draft Letter Example:

Dear Jackson Town Council, Teton County Commissioners and Teton County Parks and Recreation Department, 

[On behalf of YOUR ORGANIZATION, BUSINESS OR PERSONAL NAME,] I strongly support the inclusion of a climbing gym as part of the Teton County/Jackson Recreation Center expansion. I also support a gym large enough to accommodate the community’s needs. 

Jackson Hole is first and foremost a mountain community, with much of its history and culture steeped in climbing and mountaineering. A climbing gym at the Teton County / Jackson Recreation center will not only be a tribute to this heritage; it will also be an invaluable asset for our entire community—kids, families, guides, search and rescue members and veteran climbers alike.

Key to a great gym is enough space to accommodate our community’s needs.

Current plans for the Rec Center climbing gym call for ca. 9,000 square feet for the climbing gym, which translates to roughly 7,000 square feet of climbing area. 

The Enclosure Climbing Gym, which closed in 2014, had 10,000 square feet of climbing area. Given the increase in Teton County population and in climbing’s popularity, demand today is higher than it was when The Enclosure closed.

For this reason, I’m writing in support of a MINIMUM of 10,000 to 12,000 square feet of climbing area for the Rec Center climbing gym.

An appropriately sized rec center climbing gym will not only contribute to our community’s physical and mental wellbeing. It will create a safe venue for our kids, one that connects them to positive role models and a lifestyle that’s aligned with Jackson Hole’s legacy as the epicenter of American mountaineering. These connections will last the rest of their lives.  Allocating an appropriate amount of space to the gym is essential to making this happen.

Thank you for considering my support for an appropriately sized gym. 

Sincerely,

Your name

Title

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.

Climbing Gym Survey Results Published

In the November 2019 election, Teton County voters approved $22 million, via the SPET initiative’s Proposition #9, for “Teton County/Jackson Recreation Center Expansion and Renovation, Community Climbing Gym, King Street Extension, and Stormwater Treatment.”

In June, The Teton Climbers’ Coalition (TCC) created a survey to gather community input that could be used to inform the gym’s development.

The survey was published in both Spanish and English. More than 300 community members completed the survey, with more than 84% of respondents indicating that they voted for Proposition 9 specifically because of the climbing gym.

Survey responses, which have been shared with Teton County Parks and Recreation Department, may be found here.

One of the strongest responses elicited by the survey came in regards to the gym’s proposed 5,750 square feet of climbing area. (The Enclosure Climbing Gym, which closed in 2014, had 10,000 square feet of climbing area.)

More than 85% of respondents indicated that the 5,750 square feet would be inadequate for the needs of the community.

  • “Way too small,” wrote one. “Don’t even bother building a climbing gym if it’s only 5,000 [square feet],” wrote another.
  • “This gym has got to be big (at least Enclosure sized) to be a worthwhile climbing facility and not constantly crowded.”
  • “Make it big and amazing,” encouraged a third.

Responses comprised a broad range of county demographics. 60% of respondents indicated they were 35 years old or older; nearly the same percentage (57%) have lived in Jackson longer than 10 years. More than half of the respondents indicated they live in households with 3 or more inhabitants, while 44% have children 17 years old or younger in their homes.

A number of respondents referenced Jackson’s mountaineering legacy when commenting about the gym.

  • “Teton County is a world class mountain destination,” wrote one respondent. “It deserves a world class climbing gym.”
  • “In our unique community it is essential that we promote climbing to reflect our mountain culture,” wrote another.
  • A third noted, “A proper modern climbing gym is critical to the town of Jackson if it wants to continue its tradition as a central place for American climbing/mountaineering.”

Survey results indicated that the gym will be a family affair. In response to the question, “If you have children, will they use the gym?” 89% of respondents either answered “Yes” (63%) or “Maybe” (26%).

Separate areas for kids emerged as a priority, with more than 50% of respondents indicating they would like to see a kid- and beginner-specific climbing area that’s separated from the main climbing area, and more than 75% indicated that children’s birthday parties should be restricted to the separate area.

Responses provided a number of other key insights important to the gym’s management, such as:

  • More than 94% of respondents indicated they would use the gym one or more times per week
    • 31% of respondents would use the gym 1-2 times per week.
    • 41% would use it 2-3 times per week.
    • 15% would use it 3-4 times per week, while 8% would use it more than 4 days per week
  • The busiest usage would occur Thursdays after 5 p.m.
  • 89% indicated they wanted to see a mix of bouldering and roped climbing in the gym.

Almost 90% of respondents indicated that the gym should either be managed by specialized staff with specific climbing gym training (79%) or run by an independent climbing gym company (10%).

Other responses pointed to the importance of route setting: 93% of respondents indicated that high quality route setting was either important (22%) or very important (71%) to them.

As one respondent wrote, “Regardless of the size of the gym, having route setters come up monthly or every two months … should be factored into the budget. High-quality route setting is critical.”

“Good route setting = customer retention,” said another.

Additional insights that could help with the gym’s development are as follows:

  • “One thing that is important to me with climbing gyms is having female route setters, because it increases the diversity of climbs (especially for different body types) and females can get overlooked in climbing. Having regular women’s climbing events would be an incredible addition as well.”
  • “[Climbing is] an activity that can be enjoyed at a high level for all ages and genders. Another benefit is for young women; I have seen self esteem and confidence grow as they mature. It is also a sport for the child that doesn’t ‘fit’ the team sports model.”
  • “The gym could serve as a community gathering ground for film events, learning opportunities from local guiding outfitters, and an opportunity for local children to grow into the sport of climbing in a safe manner.”
  • “A community climbing league would be super cool too!”

Overall, though, one of the main themes that emerged from the survey was sheer enthusiasm. Comments such as, “I am very excited to go climbing there when it opens!”, “It’s about time!!!!”, and “lets goooooooooo” peppered the responses.

Wrote one respondent, “I’m so thankful that something is happening … because my husband and I have felt like there are not great and healthy ways to socialize during winter evenings without it in this town. We have really missed the gym!!”

“The community’s response to the survey has been amazing,” said Christian Beckwith, TCC Chair. “It underscores the county-wide desire for a great gym—and also highlights the emphasis the community places on getting the gym right.”