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Bouldering and booze



Walter Hailes got tired of waiting for someone else to build the climbing center he wants for Missoula.

"We have long, cold, cloudy, rainy, snowy winters," Hailes says. "I needed a place to climb inside, and so did all of my friends."

Both the University of Montana and the YMCA already have climbing walls. Hailes wanted something more elaborate. A professional mountain guide with 15 years of climbing experience under his belt, he has a distinct vision for what he wants in a bouldering gym. It's manifested in a sprawling facility at Spruce and Scott streets that he'll open in August: Freestone Climbing Center.

Hailes has been busy this spring charting out boulder angles, tiers, and slabs that he thinks will challenge kids, novices, and experts alike. "It will be a full gym eventually," he says, "with the focus being bouldering."


The building at Spruce and Scott served as headquarters for the Montana Recycling Center for decades. With new tenants on deck, property owners Doug Stewart and Mark Richlen are making significant renovations to the 30,000-square-foot Westside property. "We've got a lot of work to do," Stewart says.

Stewart and Richlen hope to take advantage of the area's designation as an "urban renewal district." In 1991 the Missoula Redevelopment Agency found the area had problems with public safety and underutilized land. The urban renewal designation means MRA will help foot the bill for improvements like sidewalks and sewer upgrades. The idea is to encourage commerce, which in turn boosts tax revenue.

A new brewery and tasting room is also in the offing for the Richlen-Stewart property. Draught Works is slated to open this summer next door to Freestone.

Hailes is incorporating his neighbors into his business plan: He envisions designating a night when parents can drop their kids off to climb while they pop over to the brewery. "We'll watch them," he says of the kids. "They can climb while you have an afternoon beer."


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