Month: May 2017
Ted Welser pushes aside a vacuum plastic curtain and climbs a set of steep stairs
that lead to the loft of his garage on the residential east side of Athens. The plywood walls are barely visible under interlocking nobs and bits. Polyurethane climbing holds make up the majority of the mimic rock which resembles cleverly reconstituted construction scraps.
Sydney Welser, 12, hangs upside down from a suspended length of PVC piping as her father says, “Yeah, this room has been a work in progress since we moved here. We finished this wall first, in 2013.” Climbing down, Sydney chimes in, “and then that one was next, it was the easiest,” gesturing toward a jumble of holds under one of the room’s only two windows.
The Welser garage loft — named The Dojo — is small by almost every metric. The Dojo is the personal climbing space of Ted Welser who, with the help of two other Athens locals, Bryant Noble and Jesse Stock, founded Climb Athens L.L.C. in September 2016.
Welser and existing members of Athens rock climbing community have managed to fit more than 105 planned “routes” and 1500 holds into a space that might be better suited for storage than for sport.
“Climbing gyms in Japan have to be like this [cramped],” Welser says pointing at an empty space between holds. “This would probably have a hold here.”
In that way, Welser reflects the personality of many climbers: tenacious. In the past year Climb Athens LLC. has attracted about 30 funding members.
Climb Athens is a non-profit organization dedicated to spreading the cornerstone tenets of rock climbing in the Athens area. Currently, the organization is in the process of applying for a 501(c)7 non-profit “Social Club” tax exemption license, and operates as such. Some of it’s ultimate goals include, “Building a supportive, cooperative community,” “Encouraging healthy, lifelong active lifestyles,” and establishing, “high quality, accessible, and inspiring climbing facilities.” Climb Athens began receiving members in the fall of 2016, but was established long before that.
Welser, now at Ohio University, moved to Athens in August of 2007 from Seattle, Washington. Though Welser climbed less frequently in Washington, a fresh start and relative geographic proximity to some of the best rock climbing on the continent rekindled Welser’s interest in the sport. Though not his first home wall, Welser fondly calls The Dojo his best.
In 2013, Welser met Bryant Noble, another avid climber, at the Athens Bicycle shop.
“I have a one track mind,” Noble says. “I had been so focused on biking that I didn’t climb for about a year.”
Noble moved to Athens with a group from Illinois to found the Brookfield Church, which is located on Court Street in Athens. Welser’s garage project tipped the scales for Noble. Together, with the help of the disparate, but pre-existing climbing community, Climb Athens began construction on its bouldering wall in Noble’s more spacious garage.
Noble’s garage, named “BetaFish,” (a pun in reference to climbing slang “beta” which helps climbers understand how to climb a prescribed route) is located on Vore Ridge Road off of 682 near the University Estates. The wall stands about 12 feet tall and is wide enough for five people to climb simultaneously. The floor is plastered with couch cushions, fall mats, and two newly acquired gymnastic mats that, together, cost Climb Athens about $2000 — money raised from membership fees.
“Running this kind of thing can be expensive. We are just trying to break even at this point, but that’s kind of what climbing is about,” Welser says. “The more regular climbers we can get to sign up, the more we can offer.”
Today, in addition to Noble’s garden tools, fishing gear and car, the BetaFish rock wall features a Moon Board (sometimes called a Moon Wall), an online phenomenon that allows for standard, pre-planned routes to be set all around the world. A wood stove is stoked during hours of operation and heats the large indoor space — a graciously Appalachian twist on gym normalcy.
As their program grows, Welser and Noble hope they can expand the climbing space in BetaFish. Continued efforts to improve the routes, ensure climber safety, and keep the conversation interesting are reliant on continued funding. The addition of another location in a commercial space has also been discussed, which could accelerate the capacity for development.
For now, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, BetaFish offers a taller wall for strength training and route planning. The space provides Climb Athens members an opportunity to help develop the goals set by the organization: offering community, support and affordable climbing.
In today’s politically and socially charged environment, it can feel challenging to find positive outlets for children. However, Portsmouth City School students found inspiration in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They used their artful handiwork to instill themes of community, health and wellness and fundamental rights in a Human Rights Garden.
“I think it’s particularly important in our community. I mean I think that we have kids who really were unaware of what their basic human rights are,” Portsmouth High School art teacher, April Deacon says. “And I think it’s really important for people to be aware of those things so that they can protect them and their own rights and the rights of others.”
For a couple of years, Deacon had an idea for the Human Rights Garden, and had been applying for grants for years, but hadn’t received anything substantial enough to complete her vision. With the small grants she was awarded, she wouldn’t have been able to do much for the students.
During the first phase of the project, the Human Rights Garden will be initially comprised of an outdoor sculpture and a plant garden that will become permanent fixtures in the district. The garden broke ground in Applegate Green on September 21, 2016, and will be completed at the end of May 18, 2017.
Deacon got a phone call from the Ohio Arts Council that the school district had been selected for the TeachArtsOhio initiative. She was ready to pitch the idea to Donna Collins, the Executive Director of the Ohio Arts Council, because Deacon already had a proposal completed that she had been sending independently to other funding options.
“The phase one project and the TeachArtsOhio initiative is a pilot project, it’s only a two year project and it’s in its second year, so I hope that they turn it into a full project and we can continue to apply for money through them.” Deacon says.
The garden will occupy 50 feet of a green space located at the high school. If funding continues, the Human Rights Garden will be the first of a multi-dimensional learning program to increase overall wellness in children such as physical fitness areas, vegetable gardens and plant-based, outdoor art.
About the Art
Students from the elementary, middle and high school studying Science, Social Studies, Gifted Art, Woodshop, Buildings and Maintenance are all collaborating with their individualized skill sets to complete different portions of the project.
In September of 2016, eighth grade students completed an archaeological survey of the land in partnership with the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park.
The Social Studies students worked to grid the garden and sifted through found artifacts during the soil tagging process.
Deacon facilitates the partnership extensions for the three schools involved in the project and organizes field trips for students to learn from other educators across the state.
The eighth grade students took a trip to the Southern Ohio Museum to view the Art of the Ancients exhibit to learn about objects and tools that were used by the Adena and Hopewell tribes that once lived in the Scioto river valley.
Students in fourth grade also took a trip to Hopewell to learn about Native American cultures.
Human rights education
In addition to studying the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, students in the junior high and high school viewed a traveling performance on the lives of Anne Frank and Harriet Tubman to delve deeper into historical human rights issues of the past.
Some “topics” can be difficult to process depending on the grade level of the students; Deacon brings the meanings closer to home.
“It’s harder for them to understand things that are going on across the world, but they understand the drug epidemic that is surrounding us and poverty and things like that,” Deacon says.
Teachers in various subject areas can decide how they want to cover issues of human rights; some teachers have taken up coursework about refugees, Black History Month, and other overarching themes of human rights topics.
Though the material being covered academically is important, the critical conversations don’t often occur without strife-especially in the current political and social climate nationwide.
“It has been a challenge since the election…talking about human rights, there are very strong opinions, and there is anger, and there is frustration on both sides, and so that has definitely been challenging,” Deacon says.
The entrance to the garden will feature the phrase, ‘I have the right to.’ The bricks the students have been working creating on will be shown along the pathways through the garden. The bricks include positive words relating to human rights, such as ‘Equality,’ ‘Safety,’ ‘Liberty’ and ‘Respect.’
The prominent sculptures will be designed by the high school Three-Dimensional Art students as well as the seventh grade gifted students in the district; they took a trip to the University of Rio Grande to watch their designs become physical through lost-wax bronze casting.
Students studying building and maintenance will create benches for seating featuring tiles created by the Three-Dimensional Art students.
Students in the woodshop program will create the box molds for paper casting and tile casting for the Three-Dimensional Art students.
Creating a Sustainable Future
Garet Martin, a Horticulture Designer and former student of Deacon’s is partnering with the students as well as educators and designers from the Franklin Park Conservatory to learn about the importance of plants, ecosystems and select plants to be used in the garden.
Mark Miller, the Education Manager of the Franklin Park Conservatory, will be visited Jane Brandel’s 5th grade classroom on Fridays in March.
“Growing and eating healthy foods, together with knowledge about living a healthy lifestyle that is sustainable at the same time is valuable for every child, every person,” Miller says.
The educators will be working with students to select plants that are native to the region and to discern what the students can incorporate for a low-maintenance garden.
“We talked about a vegetable garden; I have many, many students who tell me they don’t eat vegetables. I think we could spur the focus on health and talking about nutrition and things that we could put in our own garden,” Deacon says.
The garden is a project that teaches students in and out of the classroom about topics that aren’t always on the curriculum.
“I think its really important in education to be moving in a direction where we are making these connections between art and science and social studies, I think that’s a much better way to learn than teaching to a test,” Deacon says.
In 2012 Janet Bowers retired from her long career in Psychology work and needed a way to keep busy. She turned to her love for chocolate, and began researching and creating truffles from locally sourced ingredients in her family farm kitchen.
Mixing New and Old Roots
The Hocking County company’s concentration is in chocolate truffles, but also serves up caramels, chocolate mold assortments, and candy bars. The name comes from Bowers’ great-grandmother who named the family farm Wren Valley after her favorite bird. The farm has been in the family for over 150 years, according to Bowers.
Janet Bowers was born and raised in Chillicothe. She attended Bowling Green State University for her undergraduate studies in Geology and American Literature, and Ohio State University for her graduate work.
Years later she decided to return to the classroom to earn a Doctorate in clinical and forensic psychology. She opened her own private practice that she operated for more than 30 years out of Evergreen, Colorado. She worked closely with major hospitals and court systems. Upon inheriting her family farm in Ohio, Bowers closed up her practice so that she and her husband, Rodger, could move back to her home roots.
Pursuing the Passion
To Bowers, her retirement was liberating. She remembers thinking to herself, “I want to do what I’ve always wanted to do …and that was to learn more about chocolate and do something with it.”
Bowers says after moving back to Ohio, she struggled to find the fabulous piece of chocolate she craved. So, she took it upon herself to craft her own Old World European-style artisan chocolates.
What Goes In
Bowers creates each truffle in her farm house kitchen at Wren Valley and attributes her psychology background to the playful names of each treat. The Chai Dreamer is a blend of milk and dark chocolates, candied ginger, cinnamon in local cream, and topped with organic dried sweetheart rose petals. Aztec Chili came from her deep love for central American dishes; sweet glazed oranges and dark chocolate with the kick of habanero chilies, cayenne and cinnamon create the sweet heat truffle.
“I love looking at someone’s face when they first take a bite, it’s like the sun comes out!” Bowers says.
The Woodland Creature gift box includes chocolate mice filled with silky peanut crème, chocolate bunny molds and chocolate beehives bursting with sweet, locally sourced honey.
Several friends and some contracted workers help Bowers to regularly turn out orders for weddings, showers, corporate gatherings and restocking purchase location supply. From decorating to packaging, Bowers hand-picks who helps put the final touches on the chocolates and caramels.
“It takes patience, and skill, and speed to make that work,” Bowers says. “It really took me pushing me to begin the search for the right people.”
Bowers says it has been essentially important to use locally sourced and organic ingredients every chance she gets. Snowville Creamery, Sticky Pete’s pure maple syrup and Silver Bridge Coffee Company are a few of the local vendors behind her creations.
Dozens of flavors and fillings line the Wren Valley Truffle menu, but oftentimes Bowers lets her customers call the shots.
“Tell me what you like,” she says. “I get really inspired by people who love chocolate.”
She recently had a special order that resulted in a new layered orange and raspberry crème truffle.
The Nelsonville Emporium, located in Public Square in Nelsonville, is one shop invested in selling local craftsmanship, artwork and chocolate confections. Owner Jennifer L’Heureux says Bowers is centered on local ingredients and local economic opportunity.
“She likes to make sure people can grow. She is very supportive of the arts,” L’Heureux says. “We want to support local agriculture and entrepreneurs,” Bowers says. “I go out of my way to do that whenever I can.”
The growth of Wren Valley Truffles has called for consideration to expand and open a shop of its own, but Bowers believes it would tie her down too much.
“We’ve outgrown where we are, and that’s a good problem,” Bowers says. Bowers says her success has come from an atypical business model: “If it’s not fun, and I’m not getting joy and inspiration out of the process, then I’m not going to do it anymore.”
Bowers says she is working on starting classes ranging from beginner to advanced to teach others about creating their own chocolate confections. Bowers hopes to include demonstrations on how to make the truffles, how to source ingredients, and tips for what makes a good product, she says.
The handcrafted Old World European-style truffles, along with all of the other chocolate confections offered at Wren Valley Truffles, can be found at Glenlaurel Scottish Inn, Hocking Hills Winery, Hocking Hills Dining Lodge and Nelsonville Emporium.