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ISE alumnus to open boutique eco bouldering gym in Durham Central Park

Man standing behind brick wall

The Boulder Garden will open its doors this fall at 328 Roney St., in what many know as the Durham Brazing and Welding Works building. The project derives from Acorn Climbing, a hangboard designer and crafter founded in Raleigh. Since 2017, Acorn’s mission has been to promote healthy lifestyles and educate the climbing community on environmental stewardship.

Founder Johnny Davis expressed his enthusiasm, stating, “The Boulder Garden will be a continuation of our work at Acorn. We are thrilled to build on an already stellar Durham community and get more people outside in an accessible and safe way.”

The gym will occupy 4,700 square feet in the Central Park neighborhood, just up the hill from the Durham Farmers Market. The project is slated to expand into the neighboring lot as well. “This outdoor space connects us to Durham and the Farmers Market,” says Johnny. “Our long-term vision for the lot includes outdoor classes, gardens, art, and entertainment venues that welcome everyone.” The gym will also offer a variety of youth afterschool and summer programs, as well as walk-in and membership options for climbers.

The Boulder Garden has partnered with Vertical Solutions, a climbing wall manufacturer out of Salt Lake City, to deliver 2,300 square feet of bouldering surface. The bouldering wall will include a Kilter Board and top-out section.

girl rock climbing

Johnny Davis, a graduate of North Carolina State University with a degree in industrial systems engineering, shared his journey, remarking, “It may have taken me all five years, but I really found myself at State. Outdoor Adventures and the Entrepreneurship Garage gave me direction not only with Acorn but also with who I wanted to be as a person. Always learning and adapting, but I’m forever grateful for State’s stepping stones.”

Beyond his academic pursuits, Johnny’s entrepreneurial spirit flourished during his time at NC State. He actively participated in entrepreneurship programming, including the Miller Fellows, and he worked as a technical assistant in the Entrepreneurship Garage under Eren Hebert in 2019 and 2020. Reflecting on his experience, Johnny fondly recalled his collaboration with colleagues and staff saying, “Great co-workers, and even better friends.”

As for the origins of Acorn Climbing, Johnny explained how it began during his time as a Miller Fellow: “We created the Fury Series, a portable version of our flagship hangboard, Midnight, throughout the summer and fall of 2020, and we learned a lot along the way.”

Durham is excitedly awaiting The Boulder Garden’s big launch, which will establish a culture of wellness and companionship among the city’s busy residents while also becoming a beloved destination for climbers.

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This post was originally published in Entrepreneurship News.