The Dangers of “Pay for Play”: Challenge Discovery vs. Go Ape and other adventure parks
In August 2016, a woman tragically fell 35 feet to her death from a zip line platform at the Go Ape Tree Top Adventure Park in Delaware. http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/08/25/woman-plunges-to-her-death-off-zip-line-in-delaware.html
The popularity of adventure parks in this country continues to soar, fueled by adrenaline junkies who seek to check things off their bucket list. This new adventure recreation industry was born out of what began as adventure education. It’s not only creating potentially unsafe situations, but also less meaningful experiences.
Challenge Discovery has been a pioneer in adventure education since 1980. From the start, Challenge Discovery focused on helping individuals achieve more than they thought they were capable of doing, develop the trust and support that builds meaningful relationships, and learn important teamwork skills like collaboration, critical thinking, communication and decision making. This is the work we set out to do every day. We achieve this through professional and effective facilitation and the use of hands-on learning tools, including our high ropes course and on-the-ground initiatives.
Go Ape and other adventure parks do none of this, and that’s one of the reasons they are unsafe. Here is the problem with most adventure parks:
- Supervision is in the form of course “monitors” rather than hands-on facilitators.
- The ratio of monitors to participants can be as high as 1:100.
- Participants are given a 30-minute (or less) “training session” and are then left virtually unsupervised during the experience.
- They rely on signage to remind people to be safe.
- It’s considered an individual activity, so there is no group or team support involved.
- The experience is not designed around any specific learning outcomes, and as a result participants have little sense of accountability or responsibility.
- Most participants (even though they sign a waiver) have an expectation of safety because of past experiences with amusement parks or other activities that can be considered more controlled and predictable.
So should all adventure parks be shut down? No, but they should not be considered team-building programs. Let’s call them what they are: amusements. They should never be considered as options for school field trips, especially if they are framed as learning experiences.
Why? They are not always inclusive. They can create an enormous degree of peer pressure to perform, especially when young people have a phobia about heights and feel coerced to participate against their will. They have no specific learning outcomes, even though they may advertise that they do. And they do not hire, train or maintain a staff of highly skilled facilitators who work directly with the participants.
So, how is Challenge Discovery different than Go Ape?
- All of our staff members complete a 40-hour intensive certification program and participate in monthly staff development workshops.
- Our staff to participant ratio is 1:15, and each facilitator works with the same group throughout the day.
- Facilitators are constantly reinforcing the importance of safety, responsibility and accountability.
- Participants are learning and using real-world skills throughout the program, resulting in improved team performance.
- Every activity on the ground or in the ropes course is a team effort, requiring the group to work together effectively and learn from their experiences.
- Challenge Discovery is built on three fundamental principles that guide our work:
- We help participants build meaningful relationships
- We help people realize the value of teamwork
- We help people feel a sense of accomplishment
- We engage the participants in fun, challenging activities that have a purpose. We are not pay for play.
Of course there is a place for both types of companies to exist in this ever-expanding industry. We just want to ensure that you, the decision maker, have the information you need to make a safe and informed choice.