Outdoor adventure programming continues to gain popularity as a means to educate and enlighten people from a lot of different categories, including at-risk youth participating in behavior management programs to corporate executives honing their understanding of human dynamics such as trust, communication and goal setting as it applies to the business world.
Implementing a challenge or ropes course into the fabric of your venue can be a tremendous asset, provided there is a clear understanding of the purpose of your programming needs and that the appropriate personnel are in place to serve the end user in a manner that supports an adventure and safety philosophy.
The first challenge is to understand the concept behind the programming — that the adventure process is the backbone for the development of what is essentially a tool to impact programming for real learning.
Most program directors inherently understand the reasoning behind providing activities beyond organized sports. Both organized and individual sports and activities are camper development tools. Campers engage in a joint or sole effort to overcome a perceived challenge, driven by an innate desire to succeed.
Success does not have to equal winning or losing, and in fact, success as it applies to recreational sport should always be analogous to learning. This gives ropes courses and adventure-based ropes courses a distinct advantage and learning opportunity over traditional recreational sport activities because of its instructional and supervisory nature.
Guidance is supportive, yet the activity itself relies upon the individual’s performance in a non-reactionary, completely pre-meditated manner. In other words, you can be led to the high platform, but you must make a conscious decision to take the next step off the platform and onto a zip line.
A ropes course or climbing wall can help bridge the gap between the hesitation that may exist in a less-than-confident camper. Yet the specific activities taught by caring, creative, and knowledgeable instructors are what really contribute to the development of self-esteem.
For example, one useful activity on a climbing wall to build intrinsic motivation could be the simple recognition of a camper who climbs a number of feet throughout the duration of a camp, from 50 feet to a full mile, with awards ranging from name recognition to t-shirts with your camp logo.
The team-building phenomenon, increased self-confidence, risk-taking appreciation, and leadership development are just a few of the benefits to consider when justifying the addition of a challenge course to supplement your recreational, and therefore, educational offerings.
While sometimes difficult to quantify, the results of the participation in a challenge course is undoubtedly beneficial to campers, and in turn, the community he or she interacts with.
For most organizations, your mission statement will direct you in determining potential needs in programming or educational offerings, and by the nature of your organization, your major target market will already be in place to receive instruction specific to the needs of that market.
When deciding to add a challenge course to your facility, you need to make sure the training you seek for your staff meets the needs of your camp and mission.
For instance, camps that serve special needs children must provide instructors specifically trained to work with that group for maximum safety and learning outcomes.
Choosing the appropriate adventure workshops for your employees will ensure certification in an area that will benefit both your camp and the participants.
Depending on your target group, each will have different needs with instructors trained and prepared to meet such needs.
Various levels of certification exist for facilitators that meet minimum standards set forth by the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT), with operators required to pass both a written and practical test given by the facilitator training provider.
In order to meet the Association for Challenge Course Technology Operation Standards, for instance, the camp operators must meet requirements that include training in adventure foundations and theories, facilitation skills and mastering technical skills.
Some training providers offer specific workshops for physical education and health and wellness, with staff earning continuing education and college credits.
Clearly, there are many options in training, but the investment in your challenge course must be met with hiring only the most dedicated and dependable counselors who are aligned with your mission and camp objectives.
Supplemental liability insurance must also be considered and insurance costs vary according to several factors, including the types of activities taking place on the ropes course, how many high ropes activities (as opposed to low ropes activities), the level and experience of the trained facilitators, and the number of participants anticipated over a given period (participant days over the course of a year).
In addition, local, state, and federal regulations may apply in the construction and operation of your challenge course. Be sure to ask your qualified course builder and insurance provider if there is a risk manager who can outline what your camp must do to ensure compliance.
With this in mind, there are general costs to expect in the construction of an adventure-based ropes course. An expert in the field should complete a site evaluation to determine the organizations options and ultimate costs.
Points to consider when you’re working with a qualified adventure course builder include:
• If your anticipated space were outside in a heavily wooded area, would it be best to construct a tree course or supplement utility poles for installation of fixed points? Typical costs for utility poles may vary as prices fluctuate between $800 and $1,600 per piece, so implementing a tree ropes course may appear to be the less expensive option. However, a tree course will require more maintenance, and therefore increased costs in the long run due to the continuing growth of the tree and risks associated with natural elements such as weather and disease. Your builder will be able to apprise you of the various options and their short- and long-term costs.
• How many utility poles should be purchased based on your needs assessment? What is the lifespan of a utility pole? The average lifespan of a utility pole is about 20 years, and it is possible to have them donated. Always look for alternative funding sources, such as local business or even regional and national corporations who would like to help sponsor an adventure course, a climbing wall or some component of your program. Of course you’ll want to make sure the sponsor is consistent with your camp’s mission.
• If open space is available, will extreme weather or climate affect the success or failure of the program? For example, solutions to compensate for an open space that is in the heat of the sun all day must be put in to place to protect the participants. Ask about shade structures and other amenities, such as easy access to water or restrooms.
• If you elect to have your challenge course indoors, how will it impact space and other programming commitments? Will engineering for the indoor ropes course increase the cost more than purchasing an outside course?
• How can my facility ensure participant safety? To ensure proper installation for indoor facilities, it is important to have a project engineer work closely with architects and structural engineers during the design stage and installation process.
The complete installation of a ropes course designed for your organizational needs can vary between $10,000 and $120,000. However, the average ropes course is usually completed for approximately $35,000, according to a local source.
Climbing wall prices begin at a lower price point, depending on the size and application of the wall, but can also range very high for a custom-built, giant wall. Contact the climbing wall companies listed on page xx for more information about the breadth of products they offer.
Course inspections are recommended every 12 months, and service contracts can be purchased for meeting increased safety standards.
Keep in mind that the above questions and considerations, and the resulting cost, might increase if the adventure course will be used for seasons and groups outside your primary camp season. For instance, adult groups utilizing the course in the fall may have different needs than the kids who come to camp in the summer.
With proper planning, expert advice, and appropriate personnel, a ropes course’s utility will be limited only to your imagination and commitment to the adventure philosophy-building strong interpersonal relationships that highlight the greatest human endeavors, to achieve through teamwork and trust.
Craig Roderick is a certified athletic trainer, a sport venue management expert, and has extensive experience operating sports camps. He serves Endicott College as a recreation and fitness manager, athletic trainer and adjunct professor in sport management.