Climbing Walls

Be upwardly mobile at Oregon District’s
Urban Krag

Climber Miranda Stricker

By Julie Sigler  |  Photos By Gary McBride

It’s Friday night. Maybe you are going out with friends to your usual places. Maybe you are visiting for the first time for work. Maybe it is even the middle of the day in the middle of the week and you have nothing to do. Whatever the case may be, sometimes just finding a good place to eat is not enough. There is a need to do something outside the box. What is there to do in Dayton that is different, or more exciting than the standard restaurant and bar life? For the locals, there is one place for the adventurist heart. There’s not much advertising necessary for this place, thanks to the vast word-of-mouth publicity. A place that works up an appetite, brings friends and strangers together with opportunities to work as a team and learn about each other as well as themselves. But is it too dangerous for the average person?

The Urban Krag is an indoor climbing center, hidden in Dayton’s historic Oregon District. On the corner of Clay and Cass Street sits what looks to be an old church. A visitor just driving around could easily pass by, never knowing what it really was. The dilapidated building had been condemned.

“It was scheduled to be demolished within thirty days,” Karl Williamson said. Williamson, a long-time rock climber with a vision, found the old building and saw its potential. He wanted to build a climbing gym that was unique. “Historically, climbing walls are erected in industrial parks, made of concrete and stand-up buildings,” notes Williamson. The Krag was going to be genuinely one of a kind. Built in 1888, the structure needed a lot of work. It took a while to fix up, but thanks to Williamson’s background in restoration, the sad, old building came to life in a wholly new way. After replacing the old roof, updating windows and doors, the eviction of forty-four pigeons and eleven cats later, the Krag was born. The Urban Krag contains over eight thousand feet of climbing space, thanks to the massive ceilings. The facility currently houses the biggest wall in the state. Quite intimidating for a new climber, or an exciting challenge to conquer for a professional. Thankfully, the Krag offers classes by patient, skilled employees for all ages and skill levels. Even children as young as five years old can climb with supervision.

The Krag opened its doors on November 7, 1996. Since its start, it has gone through lots of changes. Many long-term climbers remember the days of the chalky, gravel floors. As its popularity has grown, The Krag looks to grow itself, with newer skin on the walls, an expanded pro shop, and more comforts for membership-holding climbers, like updated cubbies and workout facility. Since the building is old, it is continuously needing updates and repairs, but its age and majestic appearance is also what draws attraction from its patrons. Still, is indoor rock climbing the kind of recreational activity that anyone can really try?

I had the opportunity to interview Williamson about his dream to create the facility. How did it all happen? What was the process? Why would an indoor climbing center draw as much appeal as going out in nature and climbing a real rock? He explained how indoor climbing and outdoor climbing are “two completely different worlds.” The Krag’s popularity, in many ways, comes from its security. “Indoor climbing offers a safer experience with its convenience and controlled environment,” Williamson explained. People can climb all-year round without worrying about the weather and/or the seasons. “The walls are engineered, as opposed to outdoor, unreliable structures,” he said. For a beginning climber, safety and reliability are helpful in the learning process. The walls however, are still easily manipulated to increase difficulty for more advanced climbers, and the climbing equipment is all checked and maintained for optimal safety.

“Climbing is only as dangerous as you are,” Williamson mentioned while talking about health benefits and risks to climbers. Climbing can be fun and safe for anyone. “It’s only risky with reckless behavior,” he said. When people listen to their bodies, take care of their equipment and use proper procedures, climbing can be beneficial for a healthy life.

Personally, having climbed at the Krag for many years, it feels good to learn a little more about this unique part of Dayton that welcomes strangers and locals alike. My climbing experiences have felt like full-body workouts, but anyone can push themselves to the limit without greater safety than outdoor climbing. I have met people on their first dates, couples, best friends and single people, all climbing together and bonding, with stories to tell and advice to give. The Urban Krag is definitely original. It welcomes climbers, new or experienced, and it definitely a unique landmark of the Gem City.

The Urban Krag Climbing Center is located at 125 Clay St. in Dayton. Phone 937-224-5724 or visit for more information.

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