Wilds Are Working: Goat Fort + Organic Climbing

Wilds Are Working: Goat Fort + Organic Climbing

by | Jul 23, 2020 | Wilds Are Working

Goat Fort Indoor Climbing gym is an indoor climbing facility in Warren, PA, that focuses on bouldering. Organic Climbing is a manufacturing company based out of Philipsburg, PA, that produces quality gear for climbers.

Ta: Ok, I think we’re live. This is Ta Enos. I’m the founder and CEO of the Pennsylvania Wild Center for Entrepreneurship. And I’m happy everybody’s joining us today for The Wilds Are Working series. We have two guests today. We have Josh Helke from Organic Climbing in Philipsburg and Dana Harrington from the Goat Fort Indoor Climbing Gym in Warren. And I’m really excited to have you guys both here today. And this is the first time we’ve done one of these with two businesses at once. But we thought it was really appropriate. You guys both have climbing businesses. And before we kind of jump into kind of how you’re pivoting amid COVID and all of this, I was hoping you guys could talk a little bit. Josh, you’re a company. You guys make crash pads, backpacks, clothes, tote bags, all sort of related to the climbing industry. Dana, you have an indoor rock climbing gym that focuses on bouldering. For the Wilds, we’ve got, you know, two million acres of public land here and we’re known for outdoor recreation. But I can’t say a lot of people probably associate that with climbing. But here we are. We’ve got two business models around this industry right here based in the Wilds. And that’s really cool. And it’s such a niche. So I was wondering if you guys could just talk a little bit about the kind of the climbing community here in rural PA and what you know about them. Dana, maybe we’ll have you start. And then, Josh, you can add to it.

Dana: Wow. So really, when I think of PA climbing, I think of bouldering, and in my experience, the last 20 years, bouldering is probably the fastest growing segment. Josh may be able to correct me, but it’s also one that people don’t traditionally think of. When I got started climbing, bouldering wasn’t even on my radar. But by virtue of the fact that that’s what’s here in PA: boulders. Over 20 years, it just became what I did. And the climbing community — there are so many boulders all across Pennsylvania. I didn’t realize that there were plenty of people like me that were just bouldering in their local playgrounds…. I’m  aware of the other climbers in Pennsylvania, but none of us seem to travel outside of our own little areas much. I’ve only met Josh once before. I don’t think we’ve ever climbed together. I’m aware of all of the local players that have been developing boulders over the last 20 years. But wow, my experience of them has been more virtual than anything else. You see YouTube videos or something. So it was really over 20 years, and it was a slow progression. I had a revelation a few years back that, ‘wow, wow, there’s boulders in Pennsylvania. There’s real climbing in Pennsylvania.’ I had gone for a long enough time thinking that real climbing happened somewhere else.


Ta: Right. And you had a whole following prior to starting your gym. People you had sort of a gym set up in your garage and had a whole kind of following there. Folks that would come and climb with you prior to leading into your business model, is that right?

Dana: It was weird. It was started in a barn.

Ta: A barn. Right. Yeah. That’s cool.

Dana: It was in an old barn and then that collapsed under snow and ice. So we built just a little wall in our garage, which I think is not atypical. A lot of climbers are putting little basement walls up or garage walls up. I think that’s part of the bouldering culture. And over the course of 10 years, there really weren’t any other opportunities. So locals just started showing up at the garage. It was a Tuesday night thing. They drive way out to Pittsfield, which isn’t on any map.


Ta: And Josh, what about you?

Josh: Yeah, I mean, I think that being centered here is really cool, because, like Dana said, with the different communities. I’m actually from Minnesota, and I started climbing when I was four. So I’ve watched the sport really progress for 36 years now. And it’s been cool to see bouldering come to the forefront. I bet, you know, Dana would agree with this, but when bouldering first started kind of in the late 90s in terms of gaining popularity, I think there were a lot of people like Dana and I who were in high school at the time, and probably getting a little bit sick of the mainstream aspect of rock climbing and the cost of it, and started to see the counterculture aspect of the bouldering. It was almost like skateboarding to our generation. And I would say as a business — so this is our 16th year of business — I’ve seen bouldering go from this counterculture company that really, I guess, created what Organic Climbing is in terms of one-of-a-kind kind of art, artistic products, but then an industrial scale to now a sport that’s in the Olympics for the first time and like really mainstream.

Ta: Yeah.

Josh: It’s been crazy because back in high school, I never would have thought I could make a living off of it, let alone support, you know, a local community of employees. And now to have this sport that has blossomed and become a real sport and to have watched it go through an unprecedented time globally, like with the pandemic, I worked with everybody from, you know, Dana and the climbing gym aspect of it to people who mostly climb outdoors. And it’s just been crazy to watch how resilient our community and our sport is.



Ta: That’s cool. Yeah, so let’s talk a little bit about your businesses. So why did you decide to start your business? And we’ll start with you on this one, Josh, and go over to you, Dana. Why did you just start your business back when you did? And for Dana, I know it’s a little more recently for you. And then what have been some of the benefits to doing that on a rural landscape like ours? I’m really curious always to talk to entrepreneurs about that, you know, cost of living or shipping, just as a place to place a business, or even access to the outdoors. I don’t know. What are you what are your thoughts on it? Sort of give us your story.

Josh: So yeah, I started because my wife’s a geology professor at Penn State. I actually have a history degree to be a history teacher. But when we were out in Laramie, Wyoming, it was the first recession like the 2000s. And I couldn’t get a teaching job because it’s a small town and people didn’t really want to hire someone they saw as possibly transient, you know, gonna be there a couple years and move on, a lot like State College and that it’s just like that town used to that. So I was working at a local machine shop that made rock-climbing, little metal protection for the rock-climbing, and kind of sponsored on the side for bouldering. And I was doing some product design within the rock climbing world. And that’s when there was a company that entered the market that was making really cheap crash pads. And then every product that I was designing for bouldering ended up going from like the classic outdoor durability aspect of it, and then it just got super cheap and it became a price war. And we would spend most of our summer in Utah, like out in the field doing geology research for my wife. And I would climb in the evening, so we would just trash the gear that we were designing for other companies. And we had seen the culture. My family’s all artists, so I was always really attracted to manufacturing and the making of stuff. So we’d watch these like these production shops that maybe had surfers working in them in Oregon or other places in the summer and then in the off season they’d closed, but they’d have made products all year. So there was this culture of making stuff that got completely lost when it all got exported. So I just ended up falling in love with that. From a rural standpoint, I have a unique experience because I’m from Minnesota. So I actually moved my business back from Laramie, Wyoming, which is very rural, like the Pennsylvania Wilds to Minneapolis for two years and was in the heart of the big city. Then we moved again out to rural Pennsylvania. And I would say that the price of doing things in the rural area and the accessibility of, you know, being able to go out our back door and product test and also just having a place where you can, especially in an economic climate like now, where you might be able to attract people who want that same standard of living where you have a good job, you get to make stuff, but it’s relaxed and you’re not hustling as hard just to pay your rent.

Ta: Right. Right.

Josh: And there’s a culture of making stuff throughout some of these small mountain towns.

Ta: Absolutely.

Josh: And we love that.


Ta: Yeah, absolutely. That’s really cool. That’s just that that space of, you know, people that do the activity that they’re providing the product or service for. There’s such a difference to me when I deal with businesses that it’s a passion of theirs, like yours is for climbing. And then you make these climbing products versus somebody that’s just doing it as a product and, you know, trying to get it to market. And there just isn’t that that ground truth that comes up from actually using things and understanding how they could be improved because you go out there and test them in the field and things. So that’s just so cool, that background. And Dana, what about you? What’s your story here? So when did you guys start? Why did you decide to do it? And [what are], you know, your thoughts on sort of operating in a rural place?

Dana: You know, I think, honestly, this is my midlife crisis. So, you know, over 20 years of climbing, 20 plus years now, I found the vast majority of that early on was about my personal exploration. It was an experience that was motivated by, you know, my ego, what I wanted to do. And then I found myself, you know, married, kids, job, with a little bouldering wall in my garage. And people were coming over and there was this transformation; I think that probably is normal for people, where I would set problems. And then when people would come out to climb on a Tuesday night, I would sit on this nasty old futon in the garage and watch people climb. And it was so much fun to see what happens when you create that space. To see that this is where people would — they were just jonesing for Tuesday night to come out and climb in my little garage. And of course, I daydreamed about a rock climbing gym before then, but it was more because I wanted the gym, and I got to a point where I saw an opportunity for me to take this space that we created and do it on a larger scale and make it more available to a bigger community, even though Warren is pretty tiny anyway. And that was really the motivation. I saw it as, to steal the idea, it’s a real estate phrase when you talk about properties, ‘the highest and best use of a property.’ And I got it. I came to the point where I felt like this is my highest and best use. This is the best use of me and my talents, my experience for my community. And my wife and I, after considering how it would upset our lives to say, you know what, you may as well go for it and the motivation to do that, I think, was important. Had I tried to do a climbing gym earlier on, I’m not sure it would’ve been successful because it would’ve been driven by what my needs were personally. And I think that being driven by the greater community has allowed this to be successful. For Pete’s sake, if it wasn’t for the greater community, this wouldn’t happen. This isn’t something that just an individual does. It really takes a community to put something like this together. It’s just a natural outgrowth of where I’ve been in life. I think I answered your question.


Ta: No, you did great. It was a great answer. You guys are just the real deal. I love it. Because, you know, when you’re talking about — we deal with this on a regional scale, of course, trying to grow the outdoor rock economy. And so much of it is about, you know, it starts, it’s a lifestyle. You know, these businesses are. There’s a passion behind it. And there’s a whole sort of culture around each niche of it. And when it comes to outdoor rec. And you guys are just the real deal. And it’s just so cool to see it happen here in rural PA. So let’s talk a little bit; I want to pivot a little bit to talk about COVID. Sort of how this is impacting you guys and your operations. So, Josh, on yours, you know what we’ve seen in rec in general, since this whole thing started, they’re talking about in May there was a 40 percent increase in state park attendance. You’re seeing very aggressive use of trails and how direct there’s the sales of kayaks and bikes. And, you know, you’ve kind of seen the national stories. They’re happening statewide as well. So outdoor rec is booming. I’m just wondering in the climbing community for somebody who’s making products a rec product, how have you guys [been], are you guys seeing the same kind of trends? Do you have numbers that sort of show from last year to this year, same time frame. How is it impacting kind of your product lines in your company?

Josh: Yeah, it’s really been almost a tornado. So full disclosure, we do Organic Climbing. We also have a newer brand that Organic Climbing owns and produces called Nittany Mountain Works that’s more general outdoors. So I’m going to bring Nittany Mountain Works into the picture a little bit.

Ta: Sure, please.

Josh: So earlier in the year, we were at 24 employees and then COVID hit, and we really worked to keep everybody on. We actually got an exemption to make masks. So we made PPE, moved a lot of people into their garages and kind of got them set up to do that kind of manufacturing. And Dana, I’m sure will speak to this. What ended up happening for us is we had about probably three quarters of our employees we had brought on to help keep up with the mass production of smaller items, like the bags that hold chalk and the tote bags and stuff that people use in the rock climbing gym. Well, obviously, with fitness centers, a lot of them are still being shuttered, we’ve seen a complete loss of all that business. But the golden side of it is that those gyms that were selling those, there were like ten dollar items on a lot of smaller items that we were making in bulk. But a lot of climbers are so passionate that they ended up going outside to the parks. So they’re buying our crash pads, which are like some gymnastics mats with shoulder straps on them, and we make them all to order. So we’ve really had to completely, like, shift our whole production setup to take into consideration making a lot of little items to making a lot of these very large items that just take up space. And they’re a lot more physical to make. But I feel like we’ve won the game because we were able to really quickly pivot and do that because of our skill set, our local employees. I mean, the fact that, you know, we have our own factory right here. There’s a lot of literature out there right now, like media about bikes, how there aren’t any bikes to buy and stuff. And that’s because it’s all coming in from overseas. We do it all in-house. So we were able to pivot in a day really and just retrain people. We have this super high skill base here in the Pennsylvania Wilds textile workers and just show them how to do these other items. And, you know, full disclosure, we do have a few people that are still laid off that we don’t have work for, but we were able to retain most of our people because we shifted and started, you know, making the bouldering pads instead of the little chalk bags. And we’ve also seen remarkable growth. And then Mountain Works line just because a lot of other bike accessories — we make bags that strap on bikes — are made overseas and bike shops are coming to us because we are still producing them. We have an infinite stock because we can turn our fabric rolls into whatever product is needed instead of having it premade somewhere else.


Ta: And Josh, do you think this comes out, you know, in rec terms? In 2008, you know, after the recession, we saw a big jump in state park and forest attendance and things like that. And that bump stayed right?

Josh: Yep.

Ta: And they’re seeing a similar bump now in rec. And everybody’s sort of talking about this is probably going to stay, too.

Josh: Yep.

Ta: Do you see a similar sort of thing with your client or your customer base that, you know, some of these smaller vendors have switched from sort of sourcing overseas. Now they’re sourcing with you because they have to. And are you expecting that bump to stay? Are you hoping that bump stays, sort of new customers coming on?

Josh: It’s a really great question. I will say that yes to both of those. The one thing that we’ve seen are a lot of the big box stores that customers are traditionally used to purchasing from are kind of getting themselves in a corner and trying to bring their strong arming tactics of treating businesses how they do to get the prices they do. And we don’t take that because we don’t need to. And I think that we’re going to see a big shift in that demographic of people buying and they’re going to be doing a lot more direct to consumer purchasing between the business and the consumer. And I think that is the reason.  We’re pretty big proponents of getting high-speed Internet infrastructure into rural Pennsylvania.

Ta: You and me both!

Josh: That’s fundamentally what’s allowing us to do what we do and bring jobs to Philipsburg and to keep jobs here. It’s because we can do it. But we’re just a hop, skip and a jump from Penn State. So the infrastructure is here.

Ta: Yeah.

Josh: But I think that what I’m seeing from customers — and we love being where we are. We’re just a few miles off I 80. So we have a ton of people that come by from New York on their way wherever they get to visit. — And people really fall in love with the area. And I mean, I know we have a lot of people coming through from Canada who come down, and then they buzz up due to Warren and to go up to the Allegheny National Forest. And I think that I’m seeing a trend of a lot of people, you know, our age that have young families that are coming, falling in love with these areas because they have fallen in love with a sport or it’s become a part of their life. And I think we’re going to see a big movement of people coming to areas to settle. And I think having like the Organic Climbing or the Goat Fort, you know, I think that for people that maybe are used to having their rock gym to go work out at moving to Warren, if they can work remotely on their computer with Internet, they have that love of climbing in the winter. What they have there and then same down here, it’s like maybe they work in the outdoor industry in Boulder or somewhere, but a bigger city that they’re just getting priced out of. And the thought of coming and working somewhere where you can get a really sweet house with a lot of acreage for 50 or 60 thousand dollars.

Ta: Yeah, exactly.

Josh: Pay it off in a year or two. Like that to this generation sounds good because I think that a lot of people have, you know, they’ve been through a lot in a short period of time financially and the ups and the downs. So the security of being somewhere that makes you happy. We’re gonna see a lot more change. And people that grew up in these towns not leaving as much. I think they’re going to stay if there’s, like, cool things and cool places to work. So I think we need to focus on that as leaders in the communities.

Ta: Yeah, that is definitely one of the things we’ve always talked about with the Wilds work and the effort to grow outdoor rec is that it really does help to make our communities more competitive in terms of population retention, worker retention, attracting talent, you know, those sorts of things for the major employers there, for the small businesses there. And I think it’s like you say, it’s the rec assets, it’s some of the rec businesses, you know, that mix of the vibrant downtowns and stuff. And, you know, our region has seen it. It’s been a tough go these last couple of decades. We see, I mean, in Warren County, I think we’ve had our sixth decade of population loss. And, you know, this is a lot of chatter right now post COVID, you know, that this really could be a moment for really being able to put a stop to that population decline, as people like you’re saying, start to give rural another look and say, ‘hey, wait a second, there’s a great quality of life that you can have there and a low cost of living.’ And if there’s good jobs and companies, you know, that they can go to and a whole startup sort of entrepreneurial kind of mentality around it, I think really helps, too, because entrepreneurship is a real path back to your hometown. You know, we’ve seen that again and again for folks that are coming. Well, Dana, let’s talk about your business model. You are in a completely different situation, owning an indoor gym. That’s one of the toughest, you know, models, whether it’s rock climbing or any other kind of indoor gym. Those are some of the toughest models that we’re seeing, business models going through this crisis. I mean, I think, you know, restaurants are really, really tough, too. But as an indoor gym, kind of what are you what what has been the impact on you? And you were a startup, so that was the other thing. You were literally opening your doors the week this whole thing broke and weren’t able to open. So anyway, so tell us a little bit about how you’ve pivoted, how you’ve managed. I know you talked a little bit about, you know, you’re part of a national group of rock gyms. You’ve been able to get some intel there about how best to manage. But, you know, give us a snapshot of what you’ve been through here.

Dana: Yeah. The Climbing Wall Association has been a really valuable asset that we have weekly calls. And it’s really great to be able to get the perspective of other gym owners across the country. For us, it’s been interesting, though, because pivoting we had a business model, and to Josh’s point, your ability to just take in new data and change is crucial. But we weren’t stuck in any kind of rut. We hadn’t opened yet. We didn’t have any kind of habits to break. So just keeping an eye on what’s going on, coordinating with other climbing gyms and doing the best you can. I mean, I have to be honest, the best move I’ve made so far is not to quit my day job. We’ve been very blessed. We have. We’ve got a great community. We’re being cautious. We don’t have any rope climbing. But the business model was bouldering anyway and education. I think one of the pieces that’s important here, in Warren, we really don’t have a climbing community. We don’t have a population that really has an understanding of the evolution that’s taken place. Most people, when they think of climbing here locally, they think about someone who’s on a rope, climbing a cliff face. The idea of bouldering as a sport, it’s still so foreign and new that part of what we’re doing is just educating people. It’s been fantastic. The people that have come into the gym and said, ‘I cannot believe [it]. When I heard about this, I assumed this was an Erie. This is in Warren.’ And for them to understand that they come in with that hesitation of, ‘wait, there’s no rope. I’m not strapped into anything.’ But then with a proper orientation, getting an idea of experience, walking away with this brand new awakening of what bouldering is. And then the step beyond that is to say, ‘well, did you know that you’re sitting in the Allegheny National Forest where there are thousands of boulders here? This isn’t just an indoor activity.’ And I think it’s been beneficial for us, or will be beneficial for us, the fact that there is so much outdoor rec, and we’re really the only indoor complement to that. There’s little places in the National Forest. There’s mountain biking, there’s bouldering. There’s you know, there’s so much, but it’s the ANF so there’s 30 percent chance of some precipitation daily. I’ve been in the woods on a day where I was guaranteed a zero percent chance of rain and have been dumped on. That’s the ANF. And to have an indoor option, that is appealing to a variety. It’s not just climbers. There are people who love hiking and backpacking and camping and paddling that see indoor bouldering as a fun option to complement the other outdoor rec activities. I think that that’s going to be a boon for us as well. But the impact of COVID, I don’t have anything to compare it to. We weren’t open now.

Ta: Yeah.

Dana: And I think that there’s an aspect of always looking on the bright side. But with this, there has also been opportunity. It’s not that COVID has only had a negative impact. COVID has changed things. A2nd with change, you have to change with that. And that change includes opportunity. Josh was speaking about opportunity, they’re making more crash pads. You know, making sure that you have a window into the change that’s going on around you and being able to pivot, I think is key.

Josh: Dana, it was really interesting. Friday, we had a customer pick up from New York City who came out, got their crash pad and their daughter had your book. And they’re asking me all the info on Rimrock and all these different areas. And yeah, I’ve bouldered up there a couple times, but not nearly as much as you. And it was so cool to see this symbiotic, like they are coming to Organic Climbing, then driving two hours up to go climb. And I couldn’t help but think how important it’s going to be to have the gym there. Because people, you know, they actually texted me a couple of times because they went like the wrong way at Rimrock instead of going around the front down to all the boulders. They were like off straight down the stairs. And to have  that local knowledge there that’s shared with the local community. And I think the exposure of it. But just to have those centers of community too. Like if I came up, hadn’t had the experience navigating the woods to actually have the comfort of going somewhere that can give you that information is going to be a critical thing. And we’re seeing that down here with bike shops like people coming from New York or Philly wanting to go mountain biking or gravel biking and just getting these maps from Purple Lizard maps and, you know, here locally, because we’re sharing this knowledge, but it’s only bettering the economics of the area. People go to a local restaurant and buy their food afterwards. So I think having these pillars in the community of promoting these beacons of recreation, if you will, I think is so important.

Dana: It is. It provides an infrastructure. I didn’t realize that not everybody’s wired the way I am. Yeah, I’m OK being dropped in the middle of the wilderness and walking around with a map and compass and looking for boulders and being lost all day long. I’m not sure that’s typical or normal. To your point, having these pillars, these resources, the infrastructure that can support a broader subset of people in these activities, I always thought sitting in my garage climbing, ‘man, if only we had a climbing gym, a guide book that could support a larger community.’ And I think that we’re starting to see that growth here in Warren.


Ta: Yeah, it’s so cool to hear you guys talk about this. We talk about them as anchors in the Wilds. You know, anchor businesses, anchor centers, places that you can go to get that real ground truth as you’re trying to [explore]. Because, you know, when you look at the Wilds, it’s a huge block of green. Right? One of the biggest blocks agreed between New York City and Chicago. And that sounds really beautiful, but it’s also really intimidating if you’re not from here. And the people that help visitors and residents access that kind of space, that kind of rec, those waterways, the trails, the you know, the boulders, are the outfitters that have that ground truth of, you know, really doing that activity themselves, serving that whole community of folks, and it’s just not anything you can get anywhere else. And we do see that. You know, you can almost identify them in each county, like, OK, this is who you need to go talk to about this, because they have that kind of information that’s so helpful. And it’s really fascinating to hear your story, Josh, about the person coming in from New York, because this is kind of what the idea with the Wilds is, you know, people come in and they spend a couple days here, and they move around from place to place. They leave some money behind in the communities. And it’s so cool because that’s exactly what you’re talking about. Somebody comes in from New York City, they go to your business, they go up to Dana’s. You know, they’ve got his book. I mean, it’s just great to hear of them moving around like that. I know we’re pushing up against our time here, so I wanted to ask you guys, as you’ve been going through everything, transitioning like you have any organizations, individuals, approaches … programs that have been really helpful to you that you want to mention?

Josh: We work a lot with the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Association (PIDA), and they’ve been really instrumental, like our whole factor here is solar powered, which has brought a lot of like sustainable focus.

Ta: That’s so cool.

Josh: Yeah. Because it’s the first known, fully solar-powered sewing factory in the world. And that’s not something that people like to advertise. So maybe it’s not the only one. But like, you know, for our community, it’s brought like a lot of focus from international people. So I think that and in general — so last week, the secretary from the DCNR gave us a little symposium here at Organic Climbing just to talk about organic rec — so I think that I would really like to send a shout out to the current administration, because I think we’re doing a good job of trying to focus a little bit less on the extractive aspect up here and a little bit more about what we have in our fingers to work with and the sustainable nature of some of the economic stuff that we can let roll. Having having spent a decade in Wyoming, which is so similar to here in terms of natural spaces, outdoor opportunities, I just see that as a huge thing that our state is really focusing on and needs to keep focusing on even after COVID, because we don’t have a lot of money after all the unemployment but if we keep funding the parks and keeping these opportunities open, I think it’s really going to pay off in the long term for business.

Ta: Dana?

Dana: You know, good neighbors. Allegheny Outfitters, having that experience locally in this industry has been, oh, my goodness. Well, Piper and the Wilds, just being aware of things that until you’ve jumped into this world of entrepreneurship, you just don’t know. So they’re the local family here. They’re the local family that’s been there, done that, and has really been able to help shepherd me into the unknown. And really, the Climbing Wall Association has been great, just keeping me abreast of the greater indoor climbing world in trends and issues and how to think about things. That’s been a really valuable resource, having not been able to operate. You know, I hit the ground with an idea. My last professional experience in indoor climbing is 15 years old. So being able to hit the ground running with those kinds of resources has been amazing.


Ta: Well, to wrap up here, I want to talk about where can people find you guys, online virtually, where can they find your products? Josh, why don’t you start? And then, Dana, we’ll go to you.

Josh: Yeah. Our products are available online with OrganicClimbing.com and NittanyMountainWorks.com. When there’s not a pandemic, we actually have a storefront here where people can come and, you know, see stuff locally and do a shop tour. We don’t have that right now. But, you know, hopefully this passes at some point in our existence and we can reopen that again. So that’s just in Phillipsburg.

Ta: Cool. Ok, Dana?

Dana: So I wanted to have an opportunity to mention this, so I’m going to take 30 seconds here, OK?

Ta: Yeah, please.

Dana: I wanted to ask you. I’ve been climbing for a long time, almost exclusively bouldering. And I haven’t seen outside of Organic things like blubber pads and load straps and being a boulderer for 20 years, especially around here with uneven landing surfaces, I feel like Organic — you have products that boulderers need and want, that other companies just can’t. If I want to level the landing zone, really make it safe. I can’t think of another product somewhere else. So I wanted to give you the opportunity to tell me, am I wrong? Are these innovations that Organic came up with? I believe they are. Are they?

Josh: Yeah. I mean, we use our products and I think we’re not just out there trying to sell stuff. So I think we make stuff that we figure out we need when we’re out climbing and then go home and make it. And I think that is what kind of keeps us at the forefront of the industry. And we’re always copied, and you’ll see it two years later by other companies. But we take pride in that. And I think that, again, we can do that because we can take the risks because of where we are and having a little bit more financial breathing room, if you will.

Dana: I just wanted to say that, as a climber, that Organic is really not just another company making crash pads, but they’re actually innovating. So I wanted to take that opportunity to make sure I was right in my thinking on the blubber pad itself.

Josh: Thank you. We try.

Dana: It’s amazing.

Josh: Thank you.

Ta: Well the Pennsylvania Wilds is lucky to have you guys, that’s for sure.

Josh: Thank you.

Ta: Yeah. Thanks so much. Dana Harrington from the Goat Fort. And what’s your web address, Dana?

Dana: GoatFort.com.

Ta: GoatGort.com. And Josh Helke found Organic Climbing. Thank you so much, you guys.

Josh: Thank you.

Dana: Thanks, Ta.

Ta: Thanks.


Dana Harrington of Goat Fort Indoor Climbing and Josh Helke of Organic Climbing are interviewed by PA Wilds Center Founder & CEO Ta Enos.

Dana Harrington

Dana Harrington

Goat Fort Indoor Climbing

Dana Harrington launched Goat Fort Indoor Climbing in 2020. The Goat Fort is an Indoor Climbing Gym located in Warren, Pennsylvania. The facility offers open climbing, as well as lessons, training, and competitions. Goat Fort also provides support for local climbers, including information concerning climbing outdoors.
Josh Helke

Josh Helke

Organic Climbing + Nittany Mountain Works

Josh Helke, owner of Organic Climbing, has a goal of making high quality rock climbing and outdoor gear sustainably. Helke has been climbing for over 30 years – since he was 5. And over those three decades, and through work as a product designer, he came to realize just what he needed in the equipment that he used. That in a nutshell is why he started his business in 2003. What began in his kitchen in Wyoming was eventually moved to Minneapolis, and finally to Centre County, where they’ve been operating for the past 10 years.
Ta Enos

Ta Enos

Founder + CEO, PA Wilds Center

Ta has a rural entrepreneurship background and 20 years of experience in journalism and public communications in Alaska and Pennsylvania. As Founder and CEO of the PA Wilds Center for Entrepreneurship, Ta has scaled the nonprofit to $1M in operations in less than five years and built a team that is developing models for asset-based rural development that are recognized nationally. Prior to founding the nonprofit in 2013, Ta served as the PA Wilds Small Business Ombudsman for five years, working with entrepreneurs across the 13-county PA Wilds region.

Has your business pivoted?

 The Wild Are Working: Rural Entrepreneurship in Uncharted Times series offers opportunities for small business owners and organizations to share how they are pivoting to survive the coronavirus crisis. Through 5-10 minute live interviews, participating entrepreneurs help cross-pollinate ideas and provide insights on how people can support small businesses amid COVID-19.

Learn more about how your business can get involved here.

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