February 5, 2019
Zion Climbing Center: Searcy’s Hidden Gem
Written by Cameron Potts
Every small town has a hidden gem when it comes to small businesses. In Searcy, Arkansas, the gem just might be Zion Climbing Center.
And when I say hidden, I mean this place is hidden. Walk into Zion and you wonder to yourself “Are they open?” Or rather “Have they closed permanently?”
Walking through the doors of the nondescript white building a block off of Searcy’s Main Street, Zion Climbing is also a gathering space, which is what first greets you. This cavernous open area leads to a stage and thousands of square feet of empty space. Yet as you walk toward the back of the building, you notice a site not seen in the rolling prairies of this region: Mountains!!
Up some stairs, near the large warehouse door that leads to an alley are massive climbing walls, brought in special to this space for enthusiasts and newcomers alike to try.
Zion Climbing Center isn’t a typical small business. It is a non-profit, 501c3 with a mission to be more than a fitness center. It is a place to mentor, to learn, to get fit. In business for the past 14 years, Sean Hutchins is the executive director and he founded the place, now working with a board of directors to reach a broader community.
Along with his wife, Emily Hutchins, they run the daily activity at the climbing center, which is normally open later in the day and the evening to accommodate a large college population at nearby Harding University. Along with the climbing walls, they also offer a ropes course, team building, community events and mentoring. On the side, Sean teaches a climbing course at the University and Emily works in social services.
The space operates like other gyms, offering monthly memberships. Open six days a week, weekends are typically busy, with 25-40 climbers at any one time. When they have an open night, upward of 300 people can be waiting to climb.
“We try to cater to a lot of different people. We do excursions outside of the area. There is some really amazing climbing here in Arkansas,” Sean said. “We are also a public benefit. People use our space for parties and we also will do things like invite the community just to come in and have pizza on some nights.”
Sean leans into wanting to be a benefit to the community. His wife’s work for the Department of Human Services opened their eyes to a greater need in their town. As they said, even a few blocks from downtown and from Harding University, people are in need.
“Searcy is a pretty unique place. We get students from around the world coming here and we help them get some real-world experience here. They come to us and we are able to mentor them to what will happen outside of college,” Sean said.
Sean is working with his board to find a new location too. Currently in a 135-year-old building, he said the location can only take them so far. Ultimately, his plans include creating enough demand to make this a full-time job, at least full-time paying job.
“It is time to transition to where I am taking a salary,” Sean said. With his board, he has plans to move to another location, create more excursion opportunities and continue to offer mentoring opportunities
Zion Climbing Center is a public benefit to Searcy. From birthday parties to corporate events.