Valley News – Lebanon rock climbing center set to break ground

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LEBANON — Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the Lebanon Recreation, Arts and Parks Department had steadily been growing its youth rock climbing program.

Around four times a week, middle and high school students who took part in the aptly named “Wall Climbers” would have to travel around a half hour to Green Mountain Rock Climbing Center in Quechee.

“Things were growing and on a really good track. New kids were getting interested in climbing. Some kids were finding their new little community,” Program Coordinator Kristine Flythe said. “They just hadn’t found their niche yet … and climbing was it.”

In March 2020, that all changed. By the time recreation programs were fully up and running a couple years later, the rock climbing center in Quechee had permanently closed.

“We just couldn’t fathom going to Rutland or going down to Concord,” Flythe said, noting two of the closest specialty rock climbing gyms. “It just didn’t make sense for us to run that kind of program.”

That’s one of the reasons Flythe is looking forward to when construction begins on The Notch, a rock climbing center that is scheduled to break ground this month off Route 120 in Lebanon.

“We have secured a building permit from the City of Lebanon, bank funding is approved, and we will be breaking ground this December at 33 LaBombard Road!” Notch owners Noah Lynd and Josh Garrison wrote in a November newsletter to project supporters.

Lebanon’s Planning and Development department issued a building permit to The Notch on Nov. 2, 2023, according to city records.

Lynd, who graduated from Lebanon High School in 2007, said that if all goes according to plan, construction will take 10 months and should be complete in October 2024. Among its features will be 12,300 square feet of climbing wall space, which will allow for bouldering, top roping and lead climbing. There will also be free weights, cardio machines and yoga classes. They expect to have three full-time employees, in addition to numerous part-time employees during busier hours, which they anticipate will be after school and during the evening.

The gym will host classes to teach people how to climb safely, as well as have space for events such as kids’ birthday parties. They plan to be open from roughly 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day and there are talks about earlier hours a few days a week to better align with shift schedules at nearby Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

Lynd and Garrison, came up with the idea to open a climbing gym in the Upper Valley while on a rock climbing trip in Utah in March 2020, right before COVID hit. The two had met while teaching at a school in Connecticut and Garrison, an experienced rock climber, had introduced Lynd to the sport.

Often, they’d make the trip from Connecticut to the White Mountains to go climbing and over the years had thought Lebanon would be a good spot to have a rock climbing gym. That March in the Utah desert, they started to seriously talk about how to make that a reality. The pandemic delayed those plans.

They bought the more than two acres of vacant land on LaBombard Road near Dartmouth Coach in 2022, Garrison said, after considering other locations including transforming a warehouse into a gym. Both have since relocated to the Upper Valley. According to Lebanon property records, they paid around $1 million for the roughly 2.5-acre parcel.

“Honestly there were not a lot of good options,” Garrison said. When the land on LaBombard Road became available, they jumped on it and decided to build from scratch. “You can kind of make it your own and make it ideal to your needs and goals, rather than having a space that you have to conform.”

The majority of the project is being funded by a Small Business Administration loan, Lynd said. Individuals have also contributed funding. The partners declined to say how much the facility will cost to build. As they put together their business plan, they reached out to community members and organizations for feedback.

“The demand for any type of physical activity, things to do, especially for kids in the Upper Valley, there’s a high demand,” Garrison said.

Among the supporters of the project is Matt Rube, who co-founded the Dartmouth Climbing Team in 2015. While Dartmouth College does have climbing walls, it does not have the type of facilities needed for those who are competitive climbers in the USA Climbing Collegiate Series.

“The gym at Dartmouth is a wonderful thing to have, but it’s very small,” Rube said. “While it does offer a lot of opportunities for students to train, a full gym could offer a robust suite of climbing options and training opportunities that Dartmouth’s gym just doesn’t have.”

Rube, who has remained involved with the team since graduating in 2019 and moving to New York City, said students would have to travel to Concord or Burlington for more intensive training climbs.

He sees a facility like The Notch complimenting what Dartmouth College already offers.

“Climbing was really important to me throughout my time at Dartmouth and seeing something like The Notch develop for students to be able to use for years and years to come would be great,” Rube said.

Lynd and Garrison said that, over the years, public attitudes around climbing have changed: Decades ago, it used to be seen as more of a daredevil sport. That has shifted, and now climbing is seen as more of another form of exercise and also a family-friendly activity. Garrison and Lynd have also noticed the sport becoming more popular since its inclusion in the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2021.

“We see offering after school programs as a big part of what we want to do,” Lynd said. “Working with kids and developing an interest in climbing is a big part of the plan. It is true to who we are as teachers and educators.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3221.

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