Develop A Course Of Action

A challenge course offers opportunities for visitors to explore, develop new skills, and gain confidence in their abilities. A challenge course may also help some overcome a fear of heights, strengthen relationships in groups, or develop new relationships. Before designing a course, discuss whether one is viable for your area, as well as who will be using it.

“Determine what other recreational opportunities are already available in your community, and if there is a market for a challenge course,” says Sylvia Dresser, executive director of Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT), which serves the challenge-course and zip-line tours industries. “Develop a business plan to guide you in developing a challenge-course facility that is reasonably self-supporting.” The business plan should include the cost of installation as well as long-term maintenance and training.

“Sometimes people don’t think beyond the installation and physical maintenance of the course when developing a business plan,” says Dresser. “Keeping staff on and properly trained can sometimes be a larger expense than the physical maintenance of the course.”

A Purposeful Design

“Once you’ve determined the goals and objectives, the design of the course depends on who will be using it and what type of area you have to install the course,” says Rich Petteruti, director of the Lord Sterling Outdoor Recreation Center. “Each challenge course is designed differently based on the terrain, climate, desired outcomes and clientele.”

A challenge course can be designed for campers, corporate retreats, or people with disabilities; a good course and its instructors will be flexible enough to handle a variety of visitors. Most challenge courses are located at schools, parks, camps and outdoor recreation/education facilities.

The primary design goal is for participants to challenge themselves outside their comfort zone. “The goal isn’t to just complete the activity,” says Craig Veramay, challenge-course director with Westminster Woods, which hosts between 150 and 200 campers a week. “We strive to use what the participants have learned as a metaphor for real life.” At the end of the activities, the group members review what they learned and how they can apply that to their life.

“The goal of the challenge course is to elicit a response,” says Veramay. “We might want to work on trust, or we might want to frustrate a group so that they can learn from the experience in a safe environment.”


To provoke a desired response, a well-trained staff is needed to manage the participants. “Staffing is important to making sure the challenge course operates safely and effectively,” says Petteruti. “Hire trustworthy and responsible people.”

“Proper staff training is an important component of risk management because accidents occur from human error, not equipment failure,” says Dresser. “Don’t send one person to get trained and then expect them to come back and be able to properly train the rest of the staff.” The ACCT, with over 1,700 members, recommends that challenge-course staff be trained directly from a certified professional trainer.

Bits And Pieces

The physical elements of a challenge course can be divided into two categories–high and low courses, which include on-the-ground activities. “By being creative with the design elements, a course can be made to allow for more universal access,” says Veramay. “This provides the opportunity for anyone to go on that activity if they choose to.” It is important to allow people to determine their own level of challenge, no matter what they are physically capable of accomplishing.

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