Enrich the overall education experience. That’s the goal of the Department of Campus Recreational Services at Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York.
Adding the challenge course to the outdoor pursuits program was simply a natural expansion of the above mission, said Teresa High, assistant director of outdoor pursuits and the challenge course manager.
In 2014, the ropes course officially opened. It provides numerous exercises that require the use of problem solving skills, dipping into physical, mental and social aspects. On top of fulfilling the department’s overall mission, High said the Challenge Program also met a need for a developmentally appropriate challenge course program in the area.
It took over 10 years for the program plan to be fully implemented. “The first step was to develop a business plan, conduct a market analysis and a campus needs assessment,” said High.
To other universities looking to implement a challenge ropes course, she suggested studying “Developing Challenge Course Programs for Schools” by Scott Wurdinger and Jeff Steffen, as well as joining the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT), attending its conferences and going to course manager training.
High said it is also essential to build to current standards. Binghamton’s course was designed and installed by an ACCT certified builder. Most importantly, she said look to colleagues for advice and support. “Do not reinvent the wheel — visit as many other universities and colleges as you can within your state or within a 150-mile radius,” she said. “Our colleagues in higher education are terrific. They are very helpful in giving advice and hindsight observations.”
Plus, there are other resources out there. ACCT, as well as vendors like High 5 and Project Adventure, offer checklist templates for routinely checking equipment, said High. She also mentioned “The Complete Ropes Course Manual” by Karl Rohnke as a solid resource.
When it came down to the matter, High gave three key points that have helped the Challenge Program succeed:
- Campus support: “Your campus community has to believe in this too — everyone, from the department level, senior administration, colleagues and the students.”
- Sell it. “Look for the avenues of connection to what your campus constituents do and need: How does it tie into specific academic endeavors, work unit functions and the strategic mission of your campus?”
- Define your mission. “Know who you are and who you are not. If you go into building a challenge course with a ‘build it and they will come’ attitude or to provide zipline rides, I predict you will have a flash in the pan program and in 10 years it will not be sustaining itself without a reinvestment of more money.”
Overall, High said the Challenge Program has become a solid investment in terms of the Outdoor Pursuits program outreach. It may have been a long process, but High said she is grateful for the encouragement and support she had from those around her. “Don’t become an island,” she said. “Get out there and meet others and always strive for best practice.”
Photo credit to Jonathan Cohen