Feature Article - September 2006
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Special Report:
Recreation Managementís First Annual State of the Industry Report

Our First Annual Recreation Forecast

Trends in the Challenge Course Industry

Few people these days do not know what a challenge course or ropes course is. Parents know them-their kids have done them at camp or in school. Corporate employees know them-they've been on a team-building day. And in the world of recreation, the challenge course is being adapted in such areas as zip tours or canopy tours, as a method of exploring the canopy of rainforests, while adding some excitement to the trip.

New challenge courses continue to appear in many venues. Physical-education departments in many schools have instituted adventure programming, programs serving youth at risk have discovered the power of adventure, and camps continue to discover the developmental opportunities available on the course. Courses are built to serve a specific program or, in the case of many in public venues, to serve many different types of groups.

When deciding how to design a course, the most important thing is to design the program first. There are many different challenge-course elements, both low and high, and they can be built in different configurations, each with its strong points for certain types of programs and certain age groups. Many courses now also include provisions for universal access, so that persons with disabilities can also be fully included in programming.

One of the issues facing this industry is the differentiation between the challenge course and an amusement device. The major differences lie in the purpose of the device-challenge courses are primarily an educational tool, used with a specific outcome in mind, for an intact group of some sort. Amusement devices, on the other hand, fall in to the category of entertainment and are used on an individual, pay-to-play basis.

In some states, regulatory bodies are now looking at challenge courses from a regulatory perspective. The industry is working with these regulatory bodies as we can, to educate about challenge courses-who we are, what we are and what we are not-so that appropriate regulation can be developed when necessary.

Climbing facilities are sometimes a part of a challenge course, when used as a part of the educational program. Separate climbing facilities exist in many other places, as well, as part of a recreational facility. The recreational climbing community, as represented by the Climbing Wall Association (CWA) and Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) work together in many instances where our industries intersect.

Standards for facilitator certification are being developed now. These standards will set the norms for certifying facilitators, although ACCT will not issue the certifications; individual certifying bodies will issue the certifications. Under development for two years already, the standards should be issued sometime in 2007.

Sylvia Dresser
Executive Director of the Association for Challenge Course Technology