By Pete Zamplas
Riveter adventure fitness facility in Mills River had hundreds of curious people not “climbing walls to get in,” but eagerly getting in to climb walls.
The grand opening on Saturday, Feb. 8 drew a large crowd, despite snowy weather.
Riveter organizers hail this as the “first indoor bike park and climbing gym combo in the nation.” The 40,000 square foot new facility features massive climbing walls indoors totaling over 16,000 square feet, varying in height and difficulty with adjustable paths for year-round training.
Outside, an extensive bicycle racing park has a pavilion over 18,000 square feet, and a half dozen paths varying in terrain and difficulty. Beyond that will be an uncovered outdoor bike path on three acres, with an “epic outdoor set of progressive flow lines.”
Walker Cunningham, 12, was among earliest cyclists trying the track. Dozens of youths zipped safely, one at a time (rather than racing side by side) along on the red clay bike paths. Last year, he won the Virginia state downhill bike racing title for cyclists 14 and younger. He is with SEI Racing, in Greenville, S.C. near where he lives.
His father, Harriss Cottingham, said he is very impressed with the facility’s challenge (i.e. a six-foot-high jump) and safety features such as separate lanes.
Using a blow torch, Riveter staff defrosted the frozen largest cycling hill so cyclists could safely zoom down it. By then, snow steadily flowed in the mountainous view behind the pavilion and blew onto the track’s far edge.
Gripping a Challenge
The bike track and climbing walls help satisfy what facility co-owner Dr. Eric MacLeod told The Tribune is the “inherent need that humans have to challenge ourselves” with physical feats and greater milestones. Inner reward thrives from “progressive improvement in ability — in a safe way.”
Dylan Barks, 25, is among the most proficient climbers on the Riveter staff. The Michigan native tried out last year to represent the U.S. in “bouldering” world cup climbing competition. He went to the same (Ann Arbor Pioneer) Michigan high school as rock star Bob Seger.
“I push myself, to do more,” in practice and competitions, Barks said. When he seems to reach his limit, often he can do even more and “surprise himself.”
As a Riveter “route setter,” Barks adjusts gripping pieces (“holds”) on various climbing walls. Holds and walls they are on vary in dimension. Riveter has thousands of holds.
The higher its V rating, the more challenging a course’s climb is. Riveter has some typically as tough as a 10. A V17 is even more daunting, with merely “credit card-sized holds” demanding precision, Barks said.
As he noted, on indoor climbing walls the grips are drier and safer than natural cliffs outdoors.
“Vision is becoming reality,” Dr. MacLeod said of the opening. The orthopedic sports medicine physician further told the crowd the center is family-friendly, where “young kids can learn to bike and climb, and to build relationships” playing with other youths.
“This is not just a climbing gym and this is not just a bike park,” founder and co-owner Elizabeth Jackson said. “This is a community built around our mutual love for outdoor adventure.” She said it is “truly magical, to see this crazy idea come together.” She feels “incredibly grateful” for those helping make it happen, and for the strong opening turnout.
Jackson clipped a climbing rope, in the climbing area as the ceremonial ribbon cutting.
The co-owners are outdoor enthusiasts. Dr. MacLeod has been into alpine rock and ice climbing, and mountain biking. Jackson was a climber, later a cyclist on nature trails after having children. She has lived in WNC for the past 15 years.
Indoors are the climbing walls, yoga studio, conference room, community meeting spaces, lounge and retail shop. Yoga instructor Tish Hilyer led a huge group of people in stretches.
Just inside the front door is an admission station, where memberships are purchased and medical waiver forms are required to be signed. Riveter Business Administrator Agata Kawalec was among those busily tending to people there, on opening day.
Ten acres are set aside to keep operating as a farm.
The owners would not disclose construction cost, but noted that the private venture was not aided by any public grant. Dr. MacLeod said Vannoy built it from last May to Jan. 23. He said McGill Trail Builders were up to 1 a.m. opening morning, finishing dirt piles for bike hills.
The facility is near Asheville Regional Airport, the border of Buncombe and Henderson counties, and is a neighbor of the giant Sierra Nevada brewery. They share a roundabout, on the Ferncliff Park Drive entrance road from N.C. 280.
The grand opening was a day after a “soft” opening for some local businesses, and two days before daily public operations began. For more info, check www.RiveterNC.com.