Where else in the U.S., he asks, can you live such a life? On the average day, he says, "We all get up pretty early, though you don't have to because everything's five minutes away. We get together at someone's house and chug some coffee. Then everybody grabs their dogs and splits into cars. Climb all day and repeat." Once a month or so, everyone gathers down at the Kistlers' for homemade bagels or chili. People filter in and out all night, talking in the clipped, adjective-laden lingo of climbers. Most of them need an ampersand in their job description: teacher & climbing guide, writer & rafting guide, and so on.
On the south side of town the locals gather in a roadside tavern called Charlie's. It's the kind of smoky place where foam trucker hats are stapled to the ceiling, 75 cents will buy you a Stroh's, and camouflage suspenders are a popular fashion statement. At the bar one can find men like Sib Weatherford, 36, who grew up in Fayetteville. He's a part-time Whitewater guide now, one of the longtime locals now involved in the tourist business. "There's a divide between the outdoorsmen and the rest," he says while sipping a Coors. "The old crowd with money don't want change, but there's less animosity than there used to be.... I think they figured out that the tourists bring in dollars." He smiles. "And everybody likes dollars."
Perhaps the most encouraging symbol of change in Fayetteville is in the heart of town. Built by a coalition of locals, climbers and rafters in 2002, Play-itville is the town's new playground. Visit on a warm summer day and you'll see children who are happily ignorant of whether their playmates are the sons of rafters or the granddaughters of coal miners. From afar Play-itville looks like most any other playground, a miniature skyline of swings and slides. Look closer, however, and you'll see something unique: There are two textured climbing walls, rising like twin tributes to the gorge that made them possible.