"It was horrible," moans Scott Lazar. "They were envisioning children falling off boulders screaming, ŒOoohhh! I'm gonna sue the city.'" Lazar, a Utah rock climber, is talking about the reaction he provoked in February 1998 when he approached Salt Lake City Council members with a proposal to build the first artificial bouldering park in the U.S. Inspired by climbing structures in France and Germany, Lazar, 33, reasoned that a series of boulders placed in Salt Lake's Liberty Park could function both as public art and downtown diversion for young people without access to cars or expensive climbing gear.
Lazar's proposal took shape during early 1998 over a series of conversations with fellow climber Ian Powell, a self-proclaimed "art nouveau" sculptor. Together, the pair drafted plans for a 6,000-square-foot rock garden studded with 11-foot-tall monoliths of rebar-fortified concrete sporting sculpted holds. Each boulder would be surrounded by fall-cushioning sand and would boast hundreds of climbing problems ranging from beginner to expert.
Though council members were initially appalled at liability concerns, by the summer of '99 they had warmed to the idea—partly in response to a petition signed by more than 2,000 supporters, including local mothers who thought the recreational rock garden.might keep their angst-ridden teens out of trouble. With the help of $8,000 in privately raised funds, a $4,000 charge on Lazar's credit card,.and some donated concrete, the first of ten faux boulders is scheduled to be unveiled this month.
As word percolates through the climbing community, Lazar and Powell have already lined up at least one business prospect: a Colorado architecture firm that says it wants to incorporate climbing boulders into its shopping-mall designs. Meanwhile the project seems to have provoked some bemused commentary among art connoisseurs. "It's a cross between sculpture and playground equipment," says Dean Petaja, a metal sculptor in Salt Lake City. "But is it art? Well, it's an interpretation of a rock. It's art about rocks."