Monday, January 2, 2012

Climbing Community Left With Fewer Choices This Year

New Haven's only climbing gym has closed its doors.  So what's next for climbers in the area?

Members of a small but dedicated community across the state lost a valuable local resource recently
 with the closing of the CT Rock Gym sometime around the Thanksgiving holiday. New Haven is not usually associated with terms such as outdoors, fitness, recreation, or climbing, but these characteristics and more were exactly what the CT Rock Gym prior to its close was all about. Competition, community, and fun were often to be found inside.

If location is a main factor of a business' success, then the  Connecticut Rock Gym was poised to become a popular hangout in an area that is undergoing massive rehabilitation. Although it may have been a bit hard to find at first, tucked as it was around and behind an old factory building, the proximity to the Farmington Canal Greenway was a major selling point of access for commuters, Yale students, and citizens alike. The buildings surrounding the Gym are undergoing massive renovations to encourage the smart growth that the current administration in City Hall says it supports, hoping to attract both businesses and residents in a mixed use setting.

The  Connecticut Rock Gym had strong ties to Yale University as well. The Yale Climbing Team was a registered club sport team at the University, with practices held at  Connecticut Rock Gym 3 times a week. The Yale Mountaineering Club also experienced special use of the gym, with privileged access granted at times to members after regular business hours. Rumors were even floating around last year of an officially scheduled P.E. class for credit, and the Yale shuttle was known to stop out on occasion of bad weather to help students out with access.

Other Options Across the State

There's Prime Climb in Wallingford, which has been there for many years, but many say it is a small space with not much variation.  Also, a new Climbing Gym in Fairfield (Carabiners) which was the Connecticut Rock Gym's main competition, and maybe this was a major contributing factor to the demise of our beloved local spot. Open for less than a year, this has become the go-to-spot for many of  Connecticut Rock Gym misplaced members, but opinions about it range from too expensive to too many kids (birthday parties seem to dominate the culture there). It is a beautiful new space but lacks the warmth of membership which was the main selling point of the Connecticut Rock Gym, according to its core membership.

Owning a climbing gym is difficult. It's a seasonal business, busier in the winter than the summer, as climbing outside during warm weather is preferred to climbing inside, and this affects the flow of business in many ways. It is often a source of pride among climbers (and true to the origins and ethics of the sport) for members of the community to see how little money one can climb on - Ramen and PB&Js are the sustenance of champions in this counter-cultural world. Maybe the owner had too many people trying to take advantage of a situation where they had to pay for something that they could often get for free.

Connecticut Rock Gym employed a staff that cared enough about the daily operation that many of them continued working right up to the bitter end, without the promise of a final paycheck (though the hope was obviously strong); to the best of my knowledge they have yet to be paid for most of the last month of work. They had at least one great owner/operator that owned his own guiding business which had a symbiotic relationship with the gym in many respects. The gym was running programs with schools, camps, and municipal recreation departments across the state.  Connecticut Rock Gym hosted competitions and at times was involved with other local happenings such as outdoor film festivals.

The news for the climbing community here in New Haven and Connecticut at large is not all bad, however. There is a Facebook group dedicated to the continuation of the climbing lifestyle, and members regularly post about happenings and climbing sessions, looking for partners. There is interest from a rock gym owner in Rhode Island to open somewhere in the area. Before the gym closed there was an email list going around, and members expressed interest in forming some kind of co-operative to own the gym themselves. There have also been other inquiries about what it would it take to open the gym back up, either under private ownership (I told you these climbing types were a dedicated breed) or with some other management structure. Rumors have also circulated about the current landlord getting involved, cutting the big owner out of the picture, and handing over management responsibilities to the former CT Rock Gym employees, but details are unknown.

One thing is certain...climbing here in New Haven will be around for the long haul. The thing about this sport is that is rather addictive, and the upset among the former members of the gym is clear and visible to anyone involved. Only time will tell what the result will be, but I am confident that the climbing lifestyle here will prove as hardy as the history of the town itself.

As with anything we are doing here in town, we encourage you to get involved if you care about fitness, fun, the outdoors.  Are you interested in learning more about participating about outdoor sports?  Comment on this post if you are, and mention any specific interests.

Cycling/Climbing/Outdoor Sports Events Calendar

More Information / Links

CT Rock Climbers UNITE!!! group on Facebook
Silas Finch climbs outdoors elsewhere in CT at undisclosed location