Why local rock climbers have high hopes for Fort Wayne's indoor climbing culture

In January, an organization called Sport Wayne Inc. announced it had signed a letter of intent to design and open a sizable, state-of-the-art indoor climbing gym and adventure park at Fort Wayne's future Electric Works campus.

The development is known as Rush Rock Gym, and since plans for it were announced, they have energized many local residents, particularly members of Fort Wayne's rock climbing community and one family-owned business that stands to benefit from the ambitious concept.

As Store Manager of Earth Adventures in Fort Wayne, Bridgette McCue is a proponent of the future climbing gym project. She currently runs the locally owned and operated outdoor goods store at 1804 W Main St. near downtown, which offers a popular bouldering gym in its basement called Boulder Down Under.

Even so, McCue says she doesn’t view the future Rush Rock Gym as competition, but rather as a new way to promote rock climbing culture on a larger and more impressive scale in Fort Wayne.

“We love that they have proposed a big climbing gym with different routes,” she says. “This would be like what they have over in Europe, and it would boost the climbing industry here in Fort Wayne because right now, people have to travel out of town or out of state to experience challenging rock climbing.”

Earth Adventures' Bridgette McCue is an outdoor enthusiast herself.

Corey Ford is the creator behind Rush Rock Gym. His nonprofit organization, Sport Wayne Inc., has already been investing in Fort Wayne's sports community, running a city-wide competition called Fort Wayne Adventure Games. His latest concept for Rush Rock Gym includes "approximately 30,000 square feet of climbing space, with an Olympic-sized speed climbing wall, an adventure zone for youth, and dedicated space for bouldering, parkour, rappelling, and zip lines," The News-Sentinel reports.

The gym will also boast the first deep net soloing wall in the United States, making it a prime candidate to host regional and national climbing competitions and exhibitions. It will have an all-abilities/adaptive climbing space for climbers with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities as well. 

"Upon completion, it’s expected to be one of the largest climbing gyms in the state of Indiana," The News-Sentinel says.

While the new gym will likely entice more people to try the sport in Fort Wayne, McCue says the city already has a small, but dedicated community of regulars who come to use the current indoor rock climbing wall at Earth Adventures.

Over the years, she’s gotten to know these customers and their athletic pursuits. Their demographics span the gamut, from young couples in their 20s and 30s to retirees. But one common thread among them is that they are open and welcoming to newbies. A Facebook group called “Fort Wayne Rock Climbing" helps many new rock climbers in Fort Wayne learn the ropes from seasoned climbers, McCue says.

“If they're interested in climbing, they can join the group,” she explains. “There's a lot of advanced climbers in the group, but there's also the intermediate and beginners. It's really nice to see that kind of mentorship in that they can teach the beginners and get more people to enjoy climbing.”

Boulder Down Under at Earth Adventures

Beyond Facebook, Earth Adventures is a place where local climbers often feel right at home because they know they can find what they need, and the staff will be friendly and knowledgeable about their equipment, McCue says.

She expects Rock Rush Gym, which will be close to her shop, to be a boon for business because people who want to get serious about climbing will need to purchase special supplies and equipment, like personal climbing shoes and harnesses.

Customers will also benefit from the deep roots that Earth Adventures has in downtown Fort Wayne's evolving community. The shop opened 28 years ago and has remained relevant to its customers, even in the age of online retail. For example, hiking shoes don’t always run true to size, so McCue takes great pains to ensure that her customers find the right fit with comfort and safety in mind.

In addition to her personalized customer service, McCue says being part of downtown Fort Wayne's revitalization has helped her family-owned business thrive.

“We’re located in the West Main Street Corridor and have benefitted from other businesses coming in,” she explains. In recent years, there's been a lot of momentum in the area with the growing success of Mercantile on Main, Maisie & Maude, Junk Ditch Brewing Company, Paula’s on Main, Crimson Knight Tattoo, and other local businesses.

“I love being part of that whole revitalization," McCue says.

Rock Climb at Earth Adventures

The climbing gym is open to the public and costs a $1 for use. The space is open during store hours, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

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