Building A Case

In the early 1980s, while I was a manager of a Christian camp in Illinois, I heard of a new program called a “low-ropes” course. I didn’t have any experience in “challenge-type” activities, but the concept sounded interesting.

Creating a group initiative program requires trust.

I searched for information, but all I could find was a book called Cowstails and Cobras: A Guide to Ropes Courses, Initiative Games, and Other Adventure Activities by Karl Rohnke (1977). It turned out to be a great resource.

With that book in hand, I set out with a group of volunteers to construct our first low-ropes challenge course. To say we had no idea what we were doing is an understatement.

One of the first elements we constructed was a zipline. Looking back, I know it wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but we forged ahead.

We had the perfect spot at the back of our property. There was a large hill that fed down into a creek bottom filled with sand. Along the creek were several large trees. We selected two trees and ran a cable between them, trying to guess the angles, speed, coefficient drag and every other detail needed to make a successful zipline.

We rigged up the pulley with two rope handholds and tried to decide who would be the first to try it. Stan, a young local farmer, finally volunteered.

The entire system worked perfectly until Stan made contact with the large sycamore at the end of the ride. Fortunately, he didn’t suffer any permanent physical damage, but I heard that he had dreams for weeks afterwards about a large sycamore attacking him.

It took several tries and a few weeks, but we completed the zipline, as well as eight other team-building elements. The course became an integral part of our programming.

As usual, there were a few detractors– more or less due to ignorance — but most came around after seeing the benefits.

That is, everyone but Bill, who was not convinced until a father-son retreat, at which his two boys wanted to go on the course, and they talked him into going, too. One of his sons was on a rope scramble about 6 feet off the ground, and Bill was spotting him. Suddenly, the boy lost his grip, Bill caught him, and they both rolled to the ground.

Bill was terrified, but his son was smiling. When asked why he wasn’t scared, the boy replied, “Dad, I knew you would catch me!”

Bill was finally sold on challenge courses.

Teamwork can be a challenge.

Today, there are many books and resource guides on challenge courses available, and several professional companies have begun to construct, train, and inspect the courses. In addition, the Association of Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) has entered the arena. ACCT promotes the concept of challenge courses, and develops industry standards for them.

A Defining Experience

This two-part series examines two of the three types of challenge concepts:

• Group Initiatives

• Low-ropes challenge courses

The third concept — high elements — will not be discussed. This includes climbing towers, ziplines and actual elevated courses.

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Related posts:

  1. Building A Case
  2. The Nuts And Bolts Of A Challenge Course
  3. The Next Step
  4. Adventure Challenges
  5. Building For The Future
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