Climbing wall opens to community

Sam Chapman

In the summer of 2009, Whitman’s outdoor climbing wall was built over in order to enlarge the Sherwood Athletic Center. The center later re-opened that fall and students, faculty and staff got to take advantage of the newly opened indoor rock climbing wall. However, the new center was cold comfort to the friends, family and climbers from the Walla Walla community who were excluded under the new policy: Whitman users only and no guests.

Credit: Faith Bernstein

Now, red letters on the Climbing Center’s website proclaim a change to the policy that loosens requirements for use of the wall. Students, faculty and staff may bring unlimited family and two guests for a fee of seven dollars.   Alumni can also get those privileges by paying the same fee.

Director of Outdoor Programs Brien Sheedy says that he hoped to have the new Climbing Center open to the public immediately after it opened, but the college was apprehensive.

“The college was uncomfortable with having an open access policy at that time due to insurance and liability concerns,” Sheedy said.

When Sheedy obtained an additional insurance policy that covered guest users, he and the Climbing Center staff were able to convince the administration to agree to the new, looser policy. According to Sheedy, allowing Whitman users to bring family and guests for a fee is a boon to the Climbing Center in several ways.

“It’s an additional revenue source to offset the cost of maintenance. Harnesses, ropes, and shoes have to be retired on a regular basis,” Sheedy said. “The other thing is that at the old facility, which was open to the public, we would regularly have events where students, staff, and faculty would bring family members. During family weekends, we would have a lot of siblings come.”

Since implementing the policy change, the Climbing Center has held successful climbing events on Alumni Weekend and Family Weekend. The latter was attended by around 100 people, about half of whom used the wall.

Credit: Faith Bernstein

Climbing Center Summer Manager Heather Domonoske was on hand to collect money from the first guests to take advantage of the program.

“People are really happy,” Domonoske said. “There are definitely some avid climbers from the community who’ve been waiting for us to open the wall.”

Domonoske, Sheedy and the Climbing Center have been working to make the Whitman community aware of the policy change. Aside from the website, they have put up posters and set out tri-fold brochures at the center and plan to distribute table-toppers over the next week.

For nine dollars, rock climbers from Walla Walla are allowed to use the facility as well but only if they can find a Whitman user to count them as a guest. This part of the policy is popular with climbers from Walla Walla University, such as junior  Michael Kudla.

“I go to WWU, so I usually climb there, but I’d like to go to Whitman and climb sometime. I think it should be pretty easy to make some friends and go together there, although I am pretty outgoing, so that’s not necessarily the case for everyone,” Kudla said. “I think what they’ve got so far is great; a little pricey, but then again, maintaining a wall isn’t cheap either.”

Credit: Faith Bernstein

Many Whitman climbers have been reaching out to WWU climbers and community members who need help to be counted as guests; a Facebook page has been created to match guests with “sponsors” at Whitman.

Sheedy, who enjoyed the community relations offered by the previous outdoor wall, is glad that the new policy is bridging gaps, and plans to continue working to make the Whitman community aware of the policy change.

“We’re going to need to continue to do anything we can to make students, staff, and faculty aware of the fact that they can bring guests now,” he said. “Since access has been restricted, it will take time for the community to realize there’s been a change.”

For more information concerning the Climbing Center’s guest policy, visit www.whitman.edu/content/outdoor-program/rock-climbing