Funding climbs for Urbana Boulders


Alex Bragg and Kristoffer Schmarr

By Lillian Barkley

Exercise facilities in Urbana will reach new heights this spring with the opening of Urbana Boulders, a climbing gym in a refurbished mechanic’s garage on 1502 N. Cunningham Ave.

“We just wanted a place to climb,” said Alex Bragg, one of the gym’s creators.

He said he was planning on building a gym when Sean Hible, president of the Climbing Club at the University and senior in AHS, told him Kristoffer Schmarr had the same ambition.

Rather than competing with each other, the two decided to work together. They found fellow climber Marcus Harris, owner of Rent Champaign, who became their landlord.

“We thought it would be a really cool idea to take a space and repurpose it,” Bragg said.

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The 5,000 square-foot garage’s bay windows let in natural light, and the 14-foot ceilings make it ideal for climbing, Bragg and Schmarr said.

For the past six weeks, the two have built the space themselves, cutting and welding together the walls’ supports.

They also created an Indiegogo campaign for $10,000 to fund a 12-inch foam floor and climbing holds.

According to Bragg, they raised over $1,000 after an open house on Feb. 28. The campaign is 90 percent funded, as of press time.

Bragg posted an update on the site stating they have paid a down payment on the floor. If it is not fully funded by March 28, they lose all donations, as per Indiegogo’s fixed funding policy.

“There’s been a lot of community members from our event that we had last Saturday that were really excited to see bouldering come back here,” Bragg said.

There are no high-quality climbing facilities near the area, the closest being Upper Limits in Bloomington, Hible said.

“The nearest spot other than this is the ARC, and there’s nothing wrong with the ARC, but it’s not as professional as a real rock-climbing gym could be,” he said. “It’s got students running it, not climbers who devote their entire day to making the facility as good as it can be.”

A goal for the facility is for it to be accessible to everyone. Bragg specifically avoids calling it a gym, because he doesn’t want to restrict how people perceive it.

“We’re more than just a place to work out; we’re more of a community experience,” he said.

The facility is set up for bouldering, which has no harnesses and focuses more on free-climbing across the wall rather than climbing up and repelling down, according to both Bragg and Schmarr.

“You don’t need a team to do it, you don’t to set a date and time to do it, you don’t have to get a whole group, you don’t need a lot of gear, you don’t need a lot of expense,” Harris said.

Harris commonly climbs with his children, who are 5, 7 and 9 years old. The key, he said, is learning how to fall while also adapting to climb and being comfortable with it. Classes on falling safely will be offered, according to Schmarr.

Bouldering is an accessible activity for any skill level, Hible said. Climbing club members with no experience can learn quickly and enjoy it as beginners, he said.

Each wall offers different tracks, so climbers can choose their route based on ability.

“I call it full-body problem-solving, where you have to use your mind and your entire body to figure out the riddle to get from the bottom of the wall to the top,” Schmarr said.

Though students may be more inclined to go to the ARC, the climbing wall there is the width of one wall of the gym and doesn’t feature the same three-dimension terrain, Hible said.

One-day passes will be $10, and discounted memberships are available through the Indiegogo campaign, Schmarr said.

He added that they may offer a student night or other community events, but they currently are focused on opening Urbana Boulders and creating a space where everyone feels welcome to come in and socialize as well as climb.

They have no other events planned until their grand opening, which currently is set for April or May.

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