Volunteers earlier this month working on the tower. (Greta Mart)

Volunteers earlier this month working on the tower. (Greta Mart)

By Greta Mart/KHNS

Volunteers are putting the finishing touches this week on a new climbing tower at the Haines fairgrounds. The 44-foot tower will be ready for use just in time for the Southeast Alaska State Fair at the end of the month.

Fair executive director Jessica Edwards describes how the wall came about.

“We had a dedicated group of volunteers that were interested in climbing and wanted to see a big, challenging wall that could also accommodate beginners constructed at the fair,” said Edwards.

“These folks came together and organized work parties and they made it happen in like three days. From design and building to affixing the route. Yeah, it was a pretty amazing community effort.”

The wall is 30 feet tall, it’s topped by a 14-foot roof structure. For those not ready to scramble up a completely vertical wall, a portion of the tower is fitted with an angled section.

The climbing tower on Thursday. (Greta Mart)

The climbing tower on Thursday. (Greta Mart)

“We’re going to have an easier side and a harder side, so right now these guys are working on the harder side,” said Fair Board of Directors Chairman Eric Forster.

He explained the tower’s belay system.

“At the very top of the tower we have what’s called a TRUBLEU auto belay system. Which is a mechanized belay device which allows individuals to climb without having to have direct supervision by a belayer. A belayer is someone who keeps you from falling off the wall,” said Forster.

Four utility poles provide the tower’s frame. Once the poles were in place, the volunteer construction crew installed two-by-six decking to create the wall.

Next, the crew will create the climbing route by attaching custom-made stone handholds via through-bolts and epoxy – just like those common at indoor climbing gyms.

The wall is located behind the McPherson Barn in the far southeast corner of the fairgrounds.

Forster says two people will be able to climb at a time.

“Once you get the go ahead, you just make your way to the top of the wall anyway you can and if you fall you just get lowered gently to the ground,” he said.

And there are other plans in the works.

“We also have another team is that working to put a zip line in as well. It starts up by the baseball field and it’s going to make its way across the fairgrounds and land on the tower. So we’ll hopefully have all sorts of new rides and events at the fair this year,” Forster said.

At the moment, Fair officials have only secured insurance for use of the tower during the four days of the fair.

Edwards says staff and the board are in the process of coming up with a plan for future use of the climbing tower after the fair. She says it’s a liability issue and that it’s uncertain at the moment. But they want the community to have access to the tower, whether it’s through a dedicated climbing group or club. Those interested should contact the fair office at the start of August to get in on the conversation.