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The executive director of an Atlanta, Georgia YMCA is looking forward to this summer with the same level of excitement as a kid anticipating summer break. Tony Kimbrough is dreaming of the day a neighborhood park opens and kids can gather, play, and test their skills on a unique boulder for years to come. The weekend before Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, a few dozen kids from the YMCA and another nonprofit in the area learned to climb. The North Face athletes Fred Campbell and Manoah Ainuu showed them the moves before the kids were given clay and tracing paper to design their dream climbing wall. Those ideas will be incorporated into a custom boulder for their community.
“That day was a special day for our kids,” Kimbrough said. “It was so special how The North Face came in and embraced the kids. I think that’s something that shouldn’t go unnoticed.”
Through a partnership with the Trust for Public Land, The North Face is establishing public climbing boulders across the country as part of its Walls Are Meant for Climbing campaign. The first boulder was built in the Montbello neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. Atlanta’s will be the second, and The North Face has identified Chicago and Brooklyn as the next two projects.
Each boulder is different. The wall that will live in the Atlanta park will resemble the local rock in Horse Pen, a nearby climbing area. It will also display the initials of the kid designers. The climbable feature is one element of the 16-acre Rodney Cook Sr. Park, which is currently under construction and will serve as a community space as and water management protection from regular flooding.
The new park will bring people of all backgrounds together. The west side of Atlanta has a rich history in the Civil Rights era, which Kimbrough says residents take great pride in. Martin Luther King Jr.’s adult home is a block from the park, the area is part of Civil Rights leader Rep. John Lewis’ district, and a number of Historic Black Colleges and Universities are nearby.
“Our major responsibility is to continue to pour into our kids and show them as many opportunities available to them so they can be successful in life and I think that’s what this boulder will do,” Kimbrough said.
The global Walls Are Meant for Climbing campaign is part of the brand’s Explore Fund, which aims to remove barriers to getting people outside and making sports such as climbing more accessible and inclusive. The campaign challenges the way people think of walls and alludes to President Donald Trump‘s push to divide the U.S. and Mexico with a border wall.
“We see [walls] as places for people to come together, build trust, learn with each other, be challenged, and grow,” said Eric Raymond, senior manager, brand and advocacy communications, The North Face. “From our perspective, there’s a strong metaphor there about building community and we feel that with our climbing background, it’s an important part of the conversation and one that we really want to draw more attention to. Everybody can see walls from one perspective or another, but what we’re doing is showing them as a place that we know them, a place to unite.”