Imagine you’re climbing 30 feet up a rock wall with nothing but a group of 4 people and a rope to protect you. The sun is beating down, the wind is blowing, you’re climbing alongside a partner and as you reach the top of the wall you are asked to swing your body around to the other side where you stand on a wooden platform. Here you and your partner are hooked onto cables, placed on either side of the platform and are asked to take one last look of trust toward one another before you jump off for an exhilarating swing. Can’t imagine ever swinging from 30 feet above ground? Well that is exactly what 30 brave ELK youth were asked to do during their biannual trip to CSU’s Pingree Park mountain campus.
The trip began with a visit to Colorado State University’s main Fort Collins campus where the youth were given a tour of what college life is all about. From there the group made their way up to Pingree Park for 3 days of leadership, stewardship and community building. During their stay in the park the students participated in a high ropes and a low ropes course where they were pressed beyond their physical and mental limits. The high ropes course tested the courage and resiliency of each individual and consisted of a climbing wall and giant swing, a catwalk made of two log poles in the air and the “leap of faith” where the students were asked to climb a wooden log and jump for a trapeze. The low ropes course focused more on teamwork and group dynamics and consisted of a bull-ring group writing exercise where one marker was guided by 30 hands to draw shapes and words, an activity that required balancing the entire group on separate ends of a large wooden plank, and completing an obstacle course called the Mohawk Walk with a series of wire, wood and rope elements, on which the only means of completion was to work together as a team.
The low ropes course tested the patience and teamwork of each participant and it was especially rewarding to witness the results. The biggest challenge of the day came during the wooden plank activity. Communication among the group started off rocky; each member struggled to find the right balance between leadership and support, feeling validated or overlooked. After standing in the heat, trying different communication styles, failing and picking themselves up, the frustrated group realized they had to work on the way they communicated with one another if they were to succeed on the team exercises. After the group’s collective patience was thoroughly tested and everyone was hot and tired in the sun, they stood triumphantly on opposite ends of the plank, all 30 people balanced perfectly.
The following day, ELK participants split into two groups to either clear irrigation ditches of debris or reinforce historic trails along the Pingree campus as a “thank you” community service project. The students used the skills they had learned the previous day to communicate effectively and work as a team. They surpassed Pingree staff’s expectations with their hard work, cohesiveness, and enthusiasm for service. By the end of the service projects, communication among ELK youth was solid and each person had a hand in creating a piece of Pingree Park that will remain far beyond this trip.