Recently, I saw an online ad for a high ropes "Adventure Park." The ad boasted it was the largest course of its kind in the United States, with more than 133 self-guided elements. The ad clearly marketed the "wow" factor of the experience.
The ad reminds me that anyone can build a challenge course. During the last decade many camps, schools, and even hospitals rushed out to build challenge courses. By some estimate, there are more than 1,300 high ropes courses in the U.S. Unfortunately, a majority of these programs failed to look beyond the building to the program behind the course. As a result, these courses are either underused or offer little more than a one-dimensional, canned experience.
Much thought and discussion went into the Eagle Crest Adventures program long before the first course was built. The unofficial byline of Eagle Crest is "More than a Challenge Course." That byline is a reminder to us to view our high and low ropes courses as nothing more than tools to facilitate growth in the lives of participants. As with any craft, the same tool is not applicable to every situation. When you need a screwdriver, a hammer will not help, and a wrench cannot replace a pair of pliers.
Recently a youth pastor called about booking our low ropes course. I asked him what his goals were for the event. He stated his youth were too caught up in cliques, and they weren't hearing his messages about inclusiveness. He wanted some intense teambuilding to "hammer" it home. Instead, I recommended the high ropes course, explaining that it's an environment where people face the same wide-ranging emotions, regardless of their social status. In that environment (and with students paired away from their cliques), his youth would see each others' fear, excitement, timidity, and elation, and be challenged to work together without a confrontational message to change. The approach worked, and the youth pastor saw the beginnings of change within his group.
When I see the ad for the Adventure Park, I think, "That looks like fun." Ultimately, though, I know that's all it can offer, because that is all it is designed to do. It is a hammer that serves only one function. Eagle Crest Adventures is purposely designed to offer whatever tool the individual group might need. By its very nature our program is replete with fun, but fun is a byproduct that comes as participants experience growth and development.
How has adventure recreation helped your group build relationships?