Smile Politely

Urbana Boulders gets off the ground

You may already have heard about the Indiegogo campaign to fund Urbana Boulders, a climbing gym that will be opening this spring. Co-owners Alex Bragg and Kris Schmarr are swiftly approaching their fundraising goal, having already raised over $8,000.

The funds will help transform an old car garage into a bouldering facility, which will feature walls with several different styles of climbing holds and a huge foam floor to help keep climbers safe.

There are already a couple other places to climb in Champaign-Urbana — the Stephens Family YMCA and the ARC on campus — but Urbana Boulders will be the first gym dedicated only to climbing. They will have larger and more varied walls than folks can find elsewhere, and they will also cater to climbers of all experience levels from all parts of the community.

Urbana Boulders will also feature a “top-out boulder” installation at the top of the walls, which will allow climbers to pull themselves up and stand on the structure once they’ve finished their climb.

Future climbers got to take a sneak peak at the facility last weekend, when Urbana Boulders hosted an open house for the community. The foam floor wasn’t in place yet, but visitors got to take a look at the climbing walls themselves, which are starting to take shape.

I recently talked with Alex about what Urbana Boulders will have to offer. 


Smile Politely: What is your background? And how did you get involved in climbing?

Alex: I work for the university library, and I’m from this area originally. I’m also really into climbing. I’ve traveled all over the country and seen lots of different styles of climbing gyms, so I know what style I like. Kris, my partner, and I thought it would be good to build something like that in Champaign-Urbana.

SP: What is the concept of Urbana Boulders?

Bragg: Urbana Boulders will be a dedicated indoor climbing facility on North Cunningham in Urbana. There will be about 3000 square feet of climbing surface in this initial build of our facility. We will have a 14-foot wall with a 1-foot foam mattress on the entire floor of the facility. We won’t have ropes or harnesses, so the walls won’t be very tall. When people think of climbing, they might think of the climbing gym in Bloomington, Indiana, and the walls are really tall there. It won’t be like that at Urbana Boulders. You won’t have to be trained on how to use the ropes because we won’t have any; we don’t need them, since our walls will be relatively short. That means we will be beginner friendly. People will be able to just walk in and start climbing.

SP: What is the facility like? How did you find it? 

Bragg: Our facility is actually inside an old car garage. This building has the tallest ceiling we could find, which we need for a project like this. We drove around for a long time trying to find the tallest ceiling we could find, and also a friendly landlord. We found both with this space. The facility ceiling has to be 13 feet or higher to accommodate bouldering, which is the type of climbing we will be offering.

SP: What is bouldering?

Bragg: Bouldering is a specific type of climbing that was developed by people training for mountaineering. When you are training for a big mountain climb, you practice more difficult moves close to the ground without the use of ropes. You don’t have to use ropes or harnesses; you just put your shoes on and start climbing. It’s a style of climbing that is closer to the ground, and it requires less technical knowledge.

SP: How is fundraising going?

Bragg: Well, we raised about 50% of our funds in just two and a half days of our Indiegogo campaign, so we’re really happy about that. We’re really proud of our local climbing community and how much they’re willing to donate for this space.

SP: How is the space coming along?

Bragg: We’re hoping to be able to open up this spring. We’re well on our way through construction. Right now, we’re just wanting to get our doors open and hoping people will come have a good time when we do.

SP: What else should folks know about Urbana Boulders?

Bragg: It might just look like a dirty construction site right now, but we’re going to be a really convenient and friendly facility for all ages and all sorts of people in the community when we open. We are not just catering to college students, but to the general community. Everyone is welcome, from beginners to experienced climbers.

Urbana Boulders is located at 1502 N. Cunningham in Urbana. Day passes will be available for $10, and memberships will also be available. Day passes, memberships, and other swag are currently available to Urbana Boulders’ Indiegogo funders.

Photos courtesy of Urbana Boulders’ Facebook page.

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