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Commissioners climb for a cause

From left, Kandiyohi County Commissioners Rollie Nissen, Jim Butterfield and Roger Imdieke scale a portable 26.5-foot climbing wall owned by Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center. The environmental learning center brought the wall to the county Health and Human Services Building Tuesday as a fundraising challenge. (ANNE POLTA | Tribune)

WILLMAR — From the ground, the 26.5-foot climbing wall loomed up into the sky.

The five Kandiyohi County Commissioners, all of whom could best be described as well into middle age, slowly worked their way up the nearly vertical face amid cheers and yells from an audience gathered in the parking lot of the Health and Human Services Building.

It wasn’t your average County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday morning, but money and reputation were at stake here.

For every foot they climbed, county board members raised pledge money for the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center near New London.

And yes, all five made it to the top.

“A lot of fun and for a good cause,” said Jim Butterfield, chairman of the County Board.

The portable climbing wall is a recent acquisition of the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center. The staff has been taking it on the road this summer to community events, youth church activities, fairs and more.

It’s been a fun way to promote visibility for the environmental learning center as well as a fundraising tool in support of the center’s programs, said Steve Friedlein, challenge course coordinator at Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center..

“People have to come to us. This allows us to do outreach and go to people,” he said.

The wall can accommodate up to five climbers at a time and can be adapted to varying levels of difficulty, he said. “It’s a great wall for a lot of beginners but it’s also good for people who’ve climbed more.”

Most of the commissioners admitted to falling into the first category.

Butterfield confessed to being “deathly afraid of heights.”

“I didn’t look down. I just kept watching the wall,” he said, adding, “I’m glad it’s done.”

“I don’t do that every day. I’m glad I did it though,” said Rollie Nissen.

The wall challenge was the idea of Roger Imdieke, whose commissioner district, the Fourth, includes the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center.

Once he made the suggestion, it was uphill from there. About 30 county employees signed up for the challenge. They were joined by local politicians and youngsters from the YMCA Day Care Center.

A section of the parking lot at the Health and Human Services Building was roped off Tuesday to accommodate the wall. A food truck added a festive note.

The fastest wall climbs were chalked up by the uber-fit Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Office and Willmar Police Department SWAT members, who raced each other to the top.

Fundraising totals won’t be known until all the pledges are collected and tallied up, but Imdieke figures his pledges alone amount to at least $2,300.

“I’ve climbed a lot of siloes in my day but it’s been a few years,” Imdieke said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Friedlein said the climbing wall will make upcoming appearances at the New London music festival, the Kandiyohi County Fair and Prairie Pothole Days. Bookings are already being scheduled for next summer, he said.

“This was pretty cool,” he said of Tuesday’s wall challenge. “Every one of them made it to the top.”

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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