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Columns get high dose of care.

Byline: Susan Palmer The Register-Guard

Carrying 85 pounds of rebar, Dane Tornell hustled up the new steps at the base of the climbing columns at Skinner Butte. The lengths of rebar would be used as stakes to secure logs that edge the new terraces below the basalt face that has attracted climbers for decades.

Tornell was just one of about 50 volunteers who spent Saturday morning putting finishing touches on renovations designed by city landscaper Robin Hostick. The uniquely collaborative project brought together Eugene parks and public works staff, Lane Metro Youth Corps, REI, Home Depot and climbing enthusiasts such as Tornell, director of the South Eugene High School IceAxemen, a student mountaineering club.

"We use these columns almost weekly," Tornell said. "It's just a way to give back."

While he and his students worked on securing the logs, youth corps volunteers spread wood chips below the columns, pounded flat the gravel base of the new terrace, planted red alder and big leaf maple saplings, and painted a new educational kiosk.

Suspended by ropes on the southernmost section of rock, two volunteers yanked down encroaching ivy and poison oak. Twenty cubic yards of invasive plants have been hauled away from the site, said volunteer coordinator Matt McRae.

Money for the project came in part from an REI grant. The outdoor gear retailer donated $5,000, part of the $15,000 to $30,000 it donates annually to community projects, said Michelle Emmons, REI outreach specialist.

Eugene matched the REI money.

But the Lane Metro Youth Corps has provided most of the muscle for this job, working six hours a day for the past two weeks on the project and then returning for the Saturday volunteer effort. The youth corps is an employment, training and education program for high school students sponsored by the nonprofit agency Looking Glass.

For nonclimbers, the basalt columns may be merely picturesque. But climbing history suffuses the volcanic rock.

Willi Unsoeld - the Oregon State University graduate who pioneered the west route up Mount Everest in the 1960s - climbed here.

So did Alan Watts, the Oregonian who helped popularize sport climbing and made Smith Rock near Redmond the internationally known climbing Mecca it is today.

Watts credited the Eugene columns as the place he really began to develop his climbing skills while he was a student at the University of Oregon, according to an article at the Web site SmithRock.com.

The columns are a remnant of a basalt quarry that operated from the 1890s through the 1930s in Eugene.

"There's a tremendous amount of history here," said Roger Bailey, Eugene outdoors program supervisor. The climbing columns are unique in Oregon, probably in the nation, he said. Few urban settings can boast such a natural climbing wall in the heart of town.
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Title Annotation:Recreation; Volunteers help to finish renovations and repairs at Skinner Butte climbing wall
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 11, 2007
Words:465
Previous Article:Chapter over at LCC?
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