Every major city in the United States has at least one. College campuses all over the country have joined in the fun as well. Over the last decade or so, climbing gyms have become popular destinations for athletes and non-athletes.
Maybe it's the challenge or the adventure, or just an escape from the ordinary " but there's no denying more and more people of all ages are participating in the sport of climbing.
Since 1999, local veteran and would-be climbers have been finding their way to Rocktown, located in a former grain elevator just south of downtown. Originally known as OKC Rocks, Rocktown Climbing Gym has been under new ownership since 2007 and not only caters to the growing population of rock climbers, but has added an element of social consciousness to the mix.
The gym has teamed with the locally based Touchstone Youth Project to form a unique partnership focused on helping underprivileged kids via an adventure-based education experience. Community volunteers, such as local firefighters, provide regular assistance to help make the cooperative effort between Touchstone and Rocktown work.
"Being involved with and helping youth is a big part of what Rocktown is all about," said Aaron Gibson, who is joined by his wife, Lisa, and Touchstone in the facility's ownership group. "We've made Rocktown much more kid-friendly and family-friendly than it was originally, and that has served our objective very well."
Rocktown hosts a different charitable group basically every day of the week, including kids from Positive Tomorrows, Shiloh Youth Camp, Eagle Ridge Institute and the Boys and the Girls Clubs of America.
"That's what makes our deal unique at the climbing gym " the way it is set up to benefit charities in so many ways," said Andrew Hunzicker, representative for the Touchstone Youth Project. "The main idea is to have kids come in every single week and learn the program. They climb, eat pizza and talk about life skills."
When Rocktown isn't hosting local youth groups as part of its mentoring program, the facility is open to the public. The concrete walls of the old grain silos closely replicate the experience of outdoor climbing, offering varying degrees of challenges for beginners and more experienced climbers.
"Climbing has been popular for a long time in places like California and Colorado, but we are still trying to legitimize climbing as a sport here. That said, we've seen interest increase threefold in just the time since we took over the gym," said Gibson, a longtime Norman resident who has been involved in climbing for 17 years.
"People are always looking for alternative sports or activities, and there are a lot of kids and adults who are more devoted to individual sports. Climbing has a lot of appeal."
Rocktown continues to be a work in progress, as development of several more of the 16 silos is expected to take place in the future.
Ownership is also looking to incorporate other elements into the facility, such as an art gallery and an event center for business and private gatherings.
Added Gibson, "We're trying to make Rocktown a real social center, where we can host all sorts of events." "Jay C. Upchurch