Su Valley High’s new climbing wall really rocks

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Arts and culture

This story was originally written for The Frontiersman.


Talkeetna artists Bill Barstow and Tony Crocetto recently completed their largest project yet inside and on Susitna Valley Junior/Senior High School’s walls. The men have been painting a mural in the school’s gymnasium on the newly built rock wall for the past several weeks. This is Crocetto’s second art piece in the school, the first being a triptych titled “Autumn Woods, East Talkeetna.”

The climbing wall goes up to the height of the ceiling in the gymnasium, a towering 28 feet and across two walls more than 50 feet long. For both painters, this is their largest undertaking. The mural consists of a large, purple-shaded boulder, a reflecting lake of the Alaska Range and Denali with blues of many shades.

This project was a difficult and time-consuming one for the painters, they say, but Barstow and Crocetto weren’t the only ones who put a lot of time and effort into this project.

Steve Harrison has taught physical education at the high school since 1998 and has worked to get a rock wall installed since the school burned down in 2007. He is a passionate mountain climber and has tried summiting Denali three times, once successfully. Having years of experience as a mountain man, he finally brought the wall to the school.

“What an awesome addition to this place,” Harrison said. “I’m really stoked.”

Since the painters have been at the school, the gym has had a curtain crossing through the center of it, slicing the room in two. On the right side of the gym is a lift, the two painters, the rock wall and their array of blues, greens, oranges, purples and white. On the left, the students gather in their cramped space at lunch hour to play either volleyball or basketball. Now that the painters have departed the gym, the students, as well as Harrison, are thrilled to get their entire gym back.

Even though the painters are finished, several things need to happen before the wall is accessible to the students. Handholds will soon be installed and staff will go through training so no accidents occur. These handholds will be set up so students will look like they are climbing the mountains illustrated by the two men.

The wall will be up and running around November. The students are all fired up for the new addition and the opportunity to use this new rock wall.

“I’m ready to climb it already,” said Su Valley senior Dustin Drover.

Harrison said he is thrilled to share his passion for climbing with his students at Susitna Valley High.

“Let’s go,” he said.

Right now, everyone thinks that this wall really rocks.
Samantha Davenport is a senior at Susitna Valley High School.

The Author

Hi! My name is Sam Davenport. I am a freelance writer and lifelong Alaskan who loves reporting on the state’s history, food and culture. I am a graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage, where I received bachelors degrees in journalism and political science. I was the executive editor of The Northern Light — UAA’s student-run newspaper — for 2.5 years During my time at UAA, I completed internships at the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Public Media. I am the managing editor of The Spenardian, an award-winning hyper-local news blog and magazine for the neighborhood of Spenard. I have been published in Vice, Anchorage Daily News, Alaska Dispatch News, The Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska Magazine, Alaska Business, The Northern Light, The Anchorage Press, The Frontiersman, Alaska’s Energy Desk, KSKA, KTOO, Last Frontier Magazine, Crude Magazine, Mountain View Post, The Spenardian, Alaska Contractor Magazine, Wildheart Magazine and True North Magazine. For freelancing rates or a copy of my resume, please email me at

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