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Discussion to take down MU rec complex rock wall sparks social media outcry

Tuesday, September 2, 2014 | 10:03 p.m. CDT; updated 10:33 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Wesley White, center, wears a green rock climbing rope as he poses at the MU Columns with other climbers who graduated in 2013. From left are: Dylan Dwyer, Emy Luebbering, Jon Tylka, Heather Tylka, White, Lacey Penning, Nathan Moore and Chelsea Olson.

*CORRECTION: Previous version incorrectly stated the school year.

COLUMBIA — When Wesley White walked across the Hearnes Center stage to receive his bachelor's degree in biochemistry from MU in 2013, he was draped in standard graduation attire: a black gown, a black cap and a gold honors tassel. But what set him apart from most of his fellow graduates was his additional tassel — a green rock climbing rope.

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White was very involved in rock climbing in his four years at MU. He worked for Team Mizzou as a climbing instructor at the MU Student Recreation Complex, was president of the Mizzou Climbing Club and took climbing trips with fellow club members to Texas, Arkansas, Nevada, Colorado and Kentucky.

"Climbing was the defining experience of college for me," White said. "I found out a lot about myself from the climbing club. College was about classes, but climbing and the experiences I had with my friends was the most important part for me."

Future MU students may not be able to have the same rock climbing experiences as White, however. At the MU rec complex's annual "Rally" training event on Aug. 24, Diane Dahlmann, director of recreation services and facilities, announced that the rock climbing wall could be taken down as early as December to expand one of the complex's weight-training rooms. 

Scroggs Peak, a 35.5-foot climbing tower, and Brewer Butte, a 180-square-foot bouldering wall, have been staples of the MU rec complex since its renovation in 2005. But Dahlmann said that membership for the rock wall, which requires an additional $39 annual fee, has been declining over the years. In the 2013-2014* school year, 138 memberships were sold, and only seven have been sold since August, she said, though she expects sales to increase as the school year progresses.

MU rec complex employee Mark Mayerhoefer, who worked at the rock wall, was stunned when he heard of the plans.

"She said, 'We've had to make some tough decisions, but it seems like the Pump Room is going to be expanding into the aquatics hallway and the climbing wall area,'" Mayerhoefer said. "All of us who work at the rock wall were sitting next to each other, and all of us were completely blown away."

Word quickly spread of the MU rec complex's potential decision to take down the rock climbing wall, and both current and former MU climbers made their voices heard on social media. A Facebook page titled "SAVE THE MIZZOU REC ROCK WALL" had 755 members as of Tuesday afternoon. Members posted testimonies of what the wall meant to them, letters to Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin and pictures of themselves holding signs that read "Save the Mizzou Rec Rock Wall."

"I was disappointed at Mizzou," MU senior and climber Denny Ganahl said. "It made me feel as a student that I wasn't being heard. We're told to be diverse, and they want to tear down the most diverse thing at the rec center."

Dahlmann said that there are no concrete plans to remove the wall. She said that estimates of what the project would cost and designs for the project will be ready in the next 30 to 60 days.

"(Expanding) the Pump Room has been on our radar for several years," Dahlmann said. "No decisions have been made yet. This is still very much a conversation. But we do know that that space (where the rock wall currently is) can be reshaped to expand the Pump Room, and that it would be a large and messy project that would take several months."

Although Dahlmann wasn't thrilled with some of the negative responses and misinformation that has been posted on social media, she did appreciate that many of the climbers voiced their opinions.

"I think that the statistics that we have about who uses the wall and what that frequency is tells one part of the story," Dahlmann said. "But some of the testimonials that have come out of social media, that fills out the rest of the story. Every assessment we've ever done, we've never been able to capture the first-person side. Now we have it."

Dialogue between climbers and the MU rec center staff is ongoing. On Tuesday afternoon, Dahlmann met with climbers Mayerhoefer and John Kelly to hear their concerns about removing the wall.

"I do agree that the Pump Room needs to be expanded," Mayerhoefer said in the meeting. "I just think it would be a real shame to take down the climbing wall for a problem that's going to be fixed only very temporarily."

In the meeting, Dahlmann assured Mayerhoefer and Kelly that no decision has been made yet. She also said it's possible to relocate the wall or keep the wall as is. All parties agreed that the conversation was a positive step, and that the recent attention given to the rock climbing wall could actually be helpful.

"In the past, we've done a great deal to promote the rock wall, and it hasn't been wildly successful," Dahlmann said. "Perhaps this is exactly the bump we need."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.


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