PORTVILLE — An open-to-the-public community day at the Pierson Challenge Course brought students and adventures to Portville Central School’s outdoor ropes course Saturday.
Tucked away among the timbers of Friars Forest behind Portville Central School, the Pierson Challenge Course is an multi-leveled ropes course with a 500-foot zip line dedicated to Bernice Pierson, a long-time Portville Agricultural Technology teacher who died in a car accident in 2012.
The course is composed of various elevated wooden platforms and rope challenges interconnected by heavy cables secured to telephone poles, with some features reaching at least 30 feet above the ground. A rope ladder leads to a lower platform, and a rock wall takes climbers up to a higher second platform, both of which give climbers access to traverse a network of climbing elements.
Climbers attach lobster claw harnesses to the cables and are monitored by several qualified instructors as they climb from element to element.
On Saturday, a handful of ropes course-trained teachers volunteered to train and monitor anyone brave enough to harness-up and ascend the structure.
“We try to get as many people out as we can so they can experience it, promote outdoor activity and get people out of their comfort zones,” said Portville Athletic Trainer Matt Gnan, who instructed guests how to properly navigate the course using lobster claw harnesses.
“We advertise all the time through social media to get the public informed and basically let them know they can just show up and climb,” he added.
Gnan and several other Portville teachers host four community days throughout the year, and encourage people to see what the ropes course has to offer.
“We get people from Pennsylvania, New York, alumni and people from out of town who are looking for something to do,” said Julie Doty, a Portville elementary teacher and ropes course instructor.
“Our goal was to get people outside and active,” she added. “It’s great for team-building whatever the challenge is. It’s challenging physically and it’s challenging mentally.”
Constructed with PEP Grant funds awarded by the Department of Education in 2012, the Pierson Challenge Course on May 21, 2015, and continues to provide opportunities for instruction in fitness education, motor skills and teamwork-building exercises.
Eight members of the Portville Central School faculty and staff are qualified to instruct students and the community on the ropes course, with some trainers who have attended professional development training courses at High 5 Adventure Learning Center in Brattleboro, Vt.
“We learned techniques, safety rescues and all the information we need,” said Athletic Director Beth Colligan. “It was four days of intense twelve-hour courses. And it was intense, but very much worth it because now we’re all trained.”
Enabled by the PEP grant funds and the encouragement of Portville Superintendent Tom Simon, the Pierson Challenge course focuses on outdoor activity and teamwork.
In addition to the ropes course, several ground-level stations are located along trails in the woods surrounding the main structure. During the school year, teachers sometimes take their grades 7-12 classes through the course. A suspended tractor tire presents a challenge for classes instructed to get each student through the center without touching the tire, posts or suspension wires. Another station has five wooden stumps with notches to fit three two-by-fours of various length. Kids are tasked with getting from the first stump to the last using logic and teamwork and lots of backtracking.
Sports teams will occasionally break from practice to run the ropes course — which can take over two hours to complete in its entirety — as a trust, cooperation and team-building exercise.
Community days allow visitors meet on the hill behind the school and experience the thrill of climbing their high ropes course as well.
Saturday’s community day was open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and another community day is planned for Sept. 14 from 1 to 4 p.m. Weather permitting, an October community day will also be planned.
Updates on the Pierson Challenge Course can be found on the Portville Central School website and the Portville Athletics Twitter account @PCS_Panthers. Note that there are age and weight limits.