Success In Scaling

Climbing to new heights and taking risks are what Outdoor Chattanooga hopes to bring to the Chattanooga, Tenn., region.

Outdoor Chattanooga provides free and low-cost adventures to residents by reintroducing them to the joys of nature. The agency, a division within the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department, provides information and services promoting the use of natural resources and recreational opportunities, according to Philip Grymes, executive director of Outdoor Chattanooga.

So when planning started for the new Outdoor Chattanooga Center in Coolidge Park, a climbing wall was at the top of the list--a natural fit for promoting fitness and fun.

While the vision of Outdoor Chattanooga is to promote recreation as an attractive, healthy and distinguishing lifestyle for area residents and visitors, the hope is that it also will “maintain and enhance the value of the region’s natural and built resources, and help grow the region’s economy,” Grymes says.

“The climbing wall adds to our unique program and facility,” he says. “[And it] is another free program that we provide.”

The new feature allows people to test the waters before really roughing it at any of the area’s many rock walls.

“The traverse wall is accessible to the public, and is the perfect opportunity for people who want to try climbing but are afraid of heights, or do not know where to go to try it,” Grymes explains.

“We hope that our wall helps bring exposure to the other facilities and natural rock-climbing areas in our community, but most importantly, we hope to expose more people to the sport,” he adds. “We are located in the busiest park in Chattanooga, and it does not cost anything to climb on our wall.”

Suits Your Needs

Outdoor Chattanooga opted for the Magna Wall by Playcore, which has metallic properties that enable participants to use magnetic numbers and letters while climbing. This facilitates route-setting, game-playing and cross-curricular activities. For example, students learning about parts of speech could be asked to climb across the wall using only the hand-holds marked with nouns or verbs.

What type of wall is right for your facility? Consider the following before making a decision:


Whether it’s through fundraisers or grants, a budget needs to be established before starting on the hunt for the best climbing wall. Since there are so many varieties, a budget also helps narrow down options. Keep in mind that walls are installed in panels, and more can be added as funding becomes available.

Physical space

Outdoor Chattanooga had a large, open area to build the wall, which was ideal for installation. Things to avoid in a proposed area include anything that would obstruct views or pathways for clocks, thermostats, fire-alarm pulls/strobes, pillars, dividers, basketball hoops, water fountains, windows, etc.

Planning enough space for the wall is important. Considering what the wall will attach to--whether concrete block, tile or drywall--can help determine the type of wall that will work best in a facility. And although the actual installation only takes one day, administrators and/or supervisors have to be trained. Training includes safety issues, wall maintenance and teaching climbers to use the wall correctly.

Target audience

Be sure to discuss in detail with the manufacturer the type of program and people you want to serve and attract, in order to determine the best wall for the program.

“We wanted the wall to be inviting enough for people who were tentative, and still be designed well enough to be adapted to the more experienced climbers,” says Grymes. “[We chose] a wall that could easily be retrofitted into an existing facility, and had the ability to be closed or secured enough to deter use of it.”

The targeted age group helps determine the height and surface of the wall. Children ages K-5 typically warrant an 8-foot wall, while a 10-foot wall would be more suitable for middle-school kids. The experience level also helps determine the wall surface; there is a variety available to bring a wall from beginner to advanced skill levels.

What is the secret to a successful wall-climbing program? If it appeals to a broad range of users, the experience won’t be a secret for long.

Heather Reichle is a freelance writer living in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at