Learning to Climb in More Ways Than One

The Nakusp climbing wall, located in the local high school, will open to the public once the pandemic allows.

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Nakusp students benefit the community while benefiting themselves.

At the Nakusp climbing wall, the blue ropes hang slack and the fresh paint only shows a few smudgy shoeprints. But Nakusp Secondary School principal Peter Gajda knows this won’t last. “I’m looking forward to the day when there are five or six kids sitting on the bench waiting for their turn because there are already five or six kids on the wall,” he says.

“Yeah, we want to see people on it,” agrees teacher Dorian Boswell.

Located in the local high school, with the vertical climbing wall in the gym and the bouldering wall in the adjacent weight room, the facility will open to the public once the pandemic allows.

To understand the impressive history of this project, you need to understand the history of Boswell’s former outdoor education class. This program ran for five years, from September 2013 to June 2018. The initial goal was to help students get certifications they could put on their resumés, such as first aid and search and rescue. To make money to pay for these courses, the class added an entrepreneurial aspect; in particular, the students started making and selling fishing flashers and fire starters—and finding success.

“When we started making more money than we needed, we started looking for projects to put money back into the school and community.”

Dorian Boswell, Teacher

For example, they bought a trailer and filled it with canoes that could easily be borrowed by schools across the district.

Then, while at the Vancouver International Boat Show to sell their products, the students visited a nearby climbing wall. “On the way home, we got talking about it,” says Boswell. “The kids said, ‘We don’t have a swimming pool or rec centre, so why don’t we have a climbing wall?’ So we said, ‘Well, let’s make it a priority. Let’s do it!’”

It was a long journey, with several bumps in the road—made particularly tricky as students came and went each year. Also tricky was the location, as few buildings in Nakusp are tall enough, and building a structure just for the wall was beyond the scope of the students. The solution was to place it in the school.

“Having another recreation facility in the school adds to the regular community use of the high school for physical wellness in the community,” says Terry Taylor, Superintendent of School District 10. “All of our SD 10 schools are hubs in the community and vital to the well-being of both children and youth, and adults.”

In addition to the students putting in their own class savings, support came from far and wide. A Trust grant helped cover construction costs, as did the school district, which also spent two years helping bring the numerous climbing wall details to life. Local businesses, individuals and the Regional District of Central Kootenay offered money, time and/or materials. A designer in Vancouver designed the facility for free, and even a school in Alberta sent 100 pairs of shoes.

“We’ve had so much support from the community.” We’ve had a lot of people step up to the plate and really help out.”

Dorian Boswell, Teacher

A couple of years later, the wall is now ready for use. While attending school part-time in spring 2020, a few grade eights and nines tried it out, as did some teachers. When the world re-starts a bit more, the wall will probably begin by opening after school a couple of days a week.

“The plan is to start small and see what the use is like,” says Gajda. “We have a feeling it’s going to be pretty popular.”

To manage safety and programming outside of school hours, a new non-profit society is training volunteer supervisors. The Village of Nakusp is covering liability. The society and school district will then keep monitoring how the facility can best serve both students and the community.

The society is also deliberating what fee to charge—something minimal, but enough to cover the replacement costs of equipment like harnesses and ropes. The results will be an affordable, accessible, year-round facility that will bump up physical activity in the community.

The outdoor ed students have successfully given back to the community. They’ve also taken away many valuable lessons. They did their own research. They talked to people. They formed an executive and learned how to delegate. They wrote the grant applications. One student, after spending an afternoon with the wall’s engineer, decided to study engineering himself, and now is.

You can sit in a classroom and talk to them about entrepreneurial stuff.” The outdoor ed program was more about doing it. It was a vehicle to teach the kids real-life learning.”

Dorian Boswell, Teacher

Taylor agrees the benefits are broad: “I would anticipate that knowing that it was students who began this work will serve as inspiration for current and future students to follow their dreams and do the hard work to make a difference for their community.”

And hopefully those community members can take advantage soon and get climbing.

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