Adventure Course is a park first

About 50 kids from Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx got high - on ropes - in Alley Pond Park recently, at the opening of the new Adventure Course, the first-ever “challenge course” in a public park in the U.S.
The course consists of 20 high and low elements that can be both physically and emotionally challenging and also encourages a connection with nature and team building. The low elements are close to, or on the ground; many are handicapped accessible.
The high elements involve ropes, nets and climbing walls as high as 45 feet off the ground. The official statement that, “they may require participants to confront personal fears” was borne out by one climber at the top of the “rock wall” who exclaimed, “It’s pretty scary up here.”
New York City Department of Parks and Recreation commissioner Adrian Benepe made welcoming remarks at the Friday, July 20 opening. He was followed by Senator Frank Padavan, Assemblymember Mark Weprin, Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski and Dick Prouty, president of Project Adventure, Inc., the builder of the course.
The kids, who had to wait through the speeches, were excited just to be there. One chided an impatient mate, who complained about yet another speech, “Look around - it’s worth it.”
After the remarks, Benepe was the first to scale the climbing wall, followed by Padavan and Weprin. Both elected officials made a remarkably good showing, especially Padavan, who was wearing leather-soled “street shoes.”
Padavan recalled earlier days, when the grassy meadow near the “zip line” was a large parking lot. “It was an illicit drug-supermarket” he said, “now we have this unique facility as a highlight to the greening of the park.”
Eighteen-year-old Shawn Jenkins was the first volunteer to test out the line. Jenkins, an intern in the city’s Parks Department, who will be a sophomore at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., in the fall, didn’t seem phased after taking the plunge. “I’ve done it before,” he said, “the first step is pretty scary… It’s like a total freefall.”
Prouty, whose non-profit organization has been in existence over 35 years said, “This is one of the biggest and best we’ve ever done.” He said that he had “lost count” of how many projects the group had worked on, but guessed that it was “thousands.”
Sarah Aucoin, deputy director of the Urban Park Rangers explained, “the course can be disabled up to 12 feet, so that people won’t be tempted to use the facilities unsupervised.” She said that the area is open for unreserved public use on Sundays, families in the camping program on Saturdays and open for registered groups during the week.
Generally, the age limit for use of the challenge course is 8-year-olds, but Aucoin explained, “We can tailor a program suitable to a younger child who is capable, so it’s a soft limit.”
Benepe said that the existing $250-500 fee for use of the facility was established with an eye toward schools and youth groups. He said that the Department was considering a “tiered fee structure for ‘for-profit corporations’ to use the course.”
The challenge course is the latest addition to Alley Pond Park’s “Adventure!” program, which includes canoeing on Oakland Lake, day and night hiking and overnight camping inside the park.
Families can sign up to camp out at the park on Friday or Saturday nights during the summer, which includes special access to the challenge course on Saturdays.
The course was funded with a $250,000 grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and a $120,000 grant from the J.E. and Z.B. Butler Foundation. With matching grant funds, the nearby Springfield Playground was also recently transformed into an adventure territory for kids, featuring boulders and a mini-rock climbing wall and web.

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