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UPDATE | Bremerton climber hopes to build rock-climbing gym on island

Jason Lawson hangs off the side of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley during a climbing outing. Lawson, with partner Michele Lang, has plans to build an indoor rock-climbing gym on Bainbridge. - Photo courtesy of Jason Lawson
Jason Lawson hangs off the side of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley during a climbing outing. Lawson, with partner Michele Lang, has plans to build an indoor rock-climbing gym on Bainbridge.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Jason Lawson

A Bremerton businessman hopes to build an indoor rock-climbing gym in the Coppertop Loop business park on Bainbridge Island.

Jason Lawson of Bremerton and Michele Lang of Bainbridge Island submitted an application last week to the city of Bainbridge Island for a conditional use permit for the new business.

Island Rock Gym would be built inside the building formerly used by Gravitec Systems, Inc. before the company moved to Poulsbo.

“My goal has been to bring indoor rock climbing back to the Kitsap community; back to the peninsula,” Lawson said.

“We really like the community feel on Bainbridge and think that it would be a good fit,” he said.

Lawson has been working in the climbing industry for about 12 years, and is currently the director of sales and operations for Elevate Climbing Walls, a Lynnwood-based company that builds custom climbing walls for clients across the country.

Elevate Climbing Walls will build the climbing walls for the Bainbridge gym, he said.

Lawson said the new gym would have approximately 6,000 square feet of climbing terrain, with the maximum height in the gym of about 36 feet high. The gym will be able to accommodate top roping, lead climbing and bouldering.

Kitsap County has lacked a commercial indoor climbing gym since the closure of Vertical World in Bremerton in late 2011.

But the trip to climbing facilities in Seattle or Tacoma, Lawson said, has been too much of a hassle for many Kitsap climbers.

Lawson said it’s typical for devotees of the sport to climb twice a week or more, and he said he’s gotten a welcoming response from climbers throughout the area — and others — who are excited about a climbing gym opening here.

“Many people tried to make the trek over to Seattle or to Tacoma to do climbing, but it just proved very expensive and very time consuming for most. Even myself, as an avid climber,” he said.

Lawson got his start in the sport at Bremerton’s Vertical World back in 2001. He was a competitive climber as a youth, and he later became a climbing coach.

“It kind of took over my life,” he said.

Rock climbing continues to grow in popularity, Lawson said. He recalled how the first climbing gym was built in Seattle in 1987; the city now boasts five or so in the area, plus two in Tacoma.

Nationwide, Lawson said there are more than 500 indoor climbing gyms, with more than 60 in California alone.

Climbing attracts a wide variety of enthusiasts, he said.

“I’ve worked training programs with people as old as 75 and I’ve also worked with kids as young as 3. If you can walk, you can climb,” he said.

In his application to the city, Lawson said the gym will require a four-month buildout after permits are received, and the business would then immediately open to the public.

Island Rock Gym would be open to all ages and abilities, and plans to offer open climbing, instructional youth climbing programs, adult classes and event rentals, such as for birthday parties.

Word is starting to get around about the plans for the new gym, which Lawson said he hopes to open by early August.

“People are very excited. The community response has been extremely positive,” he said.

The comment period on the conditional use permit for the gym runs for 21 days; comments must be received by 4 p.m. March 29.

Comments can be sent to Joshua Machen, City of Bainbridge Island, Department of Planning & Community Development, 280 Madison Ave. N., Bainbridge Island, WA 98110; or fax at 206-780-0955; email pcd@bainbridgewa.gov.

 

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