By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Mar 08, 2004 at 5:44 AM

{image1}Although some might argue that rock climbing hit its popularity peak in the '90s, 22-year-old Justin McGowan -- with the help of amost a dozen volunteers -- is keeping the sport alive.

McGowan is the director of Milwaukee Turners Rock Climbing (formerly Rock Solid Sports), which features an indoor rock climbing gym below Turner Hall and the Historic Turner Restaurant, 1034 N. 4th St. The wall was built about 10 years and shares the space with Milwaukee Turners Gymnastics.

"The wall's uniqueness lies in the fact that it is the only 'open' climbing wall in Milwaukee," says McGowan. "By that I mean anyone can come and take lessons or climb. You do not have to be a member to climb here."

The wall is staffed entirely by 10 volunteers, called the Turners Climbing Alliance, and McGowan hopes to recruit at least 20 more volunteers.

"The volunteers put in their time each month by working shifts or doing other work around the gym. In return they get to climb for free and have Turners Climbing Alliance workshops and skill development," he says.

Not having a paid staff greatly reduces costs and makes the sport more accessible to groups like non-profit organizations, youth groups, boy-scouts, church groups, community organizations and college students.

"However it is still easily accessible for the young professional or business person," says McGowan, who also owns Dive USA, a scuba facility in Thiensville.

The wall is 25 feet high with 20 ropes and a variety of different climbing routes ranging in difficulty. There is also a bouldering wall where people can climb on a cave-like structure without the use of ropes.

McGowan started climbing four years ago and started running the gym last year. He also climbs outdoors at places like Devil's Lake and under the Lafayette Bridge on the East Side.

"I teach scuba diving as my primary job and grew to love teaching people how to rock climb also," he says.

Currently, the gym is open Tuesdays and Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 5 p.m. For more information, e-mail McGowan at or call (414) 852-9643

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.