Alleghany County’s Challenge Course Lays Groundwork For Future Leaders
Nestled within mountain slopes dotted with some of the best Christmas tree farms in North Carolina is the Alleghany Challenge Course, a facility that’s become a fixture within the county school system. Organizers hope to develop it even further.
The Alleghany Challenge Course is derived from the ideas and enthusiasm of Glenn Wing, a Massachusetts native who relocated to this small county in northwestern North Carolina back in 2001 to be a recreation therapist for an after-school program at Alleghany High School.
Now 10 years later, Wing’s course and program have been praised by school and community leaders as a way to boost teenagers’ self-esteem, work ethic and more.
“I was an unknown entity in the beginning. But I’ve found it so heartwarming about what there is to be gained through coming together in terms of camaraderie, supporting each other and taking care of each other,” Wing says.
The activities that the course hosts seem to accentuate those attributes Wing described.
Description of the Course
The course itself is located directly between Alleghany High School and the county’s campus of Wilkes Community College. Wing explained the setting was picked so it could be a resource for the primary and secondary schools in the area and also where it could serve as a community resource for organizations, such as Alleghany County 4-H, Boy Scouts, Girls Scouts and more.
Contained within cleared areas beneath large trees are challenges that force participants to work together. Here are some examples:
—In order to walk across a beam, someone needs to be steadied on either side by spotters.
—To climb on another apparatus, a participant needs the assistance of others.
—To maneuver another segment of the course, small groups have to coordinate efforts to connect planks efficiently and completely so the objective can be met.
“This whole course is an equalizer,” Wing says. “When they become frustrated, that’s when the real issues come out. To teach, that becomes a powerful metaphor for the rest of their lives.”
And teaching, whether the participants are in their teens or much older, is what Wing hopes the course does. School officials say they’ve seen great progress made by students who have participated.
Alleghany High School Principal Paul Crouse described how misbehavior and other social problems that could arise within a student body of 437 teenagers have steadily gone down since challenge course activities have been implemented starting with ninth-grade physical education classes.
“It’s been a real benefit to our kids for self-esteem building, confidence building and developing social skills,” Crouse says. “It’s helped to put kids in an environment where everybody’s equal and the stigmas from the classroom or wherever are gone. When you’re out there on the course, you’re back to basics.”
Crouse conceded that some faculty members weren’t sure how to use the challenge course beyond a physical education class setting. But it’s been used to augment college preparatory courses and other vocational and technical classes the school offers.
“The course makes things relevant,” Crouse says. “Glenn does a great job. It all seems impossible but then you’ve done it. He’s made it a metaphor and symbolic of some of the challenges these kids are going to face throughout their teenage years and college and beyond. It’s a comprehensive piece on how tough it is to grow up and the challenges we deal with.”
While school administrators applaud the course’s success, parents are also impressed, as well.
“It’s a tremendous asset,” says Sidney Woodie, a homemaker who has four children in the county school system. “What Glenn does with the children is amazing. I’ve seen kids who had very little confidence go out and be able to do things they thought they could never do. They now have the confidence to go try schoolwork more because that little bit of self-esteem has helped so much.”
Applications Beyond the School Environment
Several corporate training activities have been orchestrated at the course. Wing shared the story of a gentleman who conquered his extreme fear of heights thanks to the reassurance he received from co-workers.
“He said it was the bravest thing he had ever done in his life,” Wing recalls.
Wing says the growth of the course has been gradual, thanks to donations from community fixtures such as Blue Ridge Electric and others. Donations of more than $20,000 have poured in to allow the course to maintain its annual certification, as well as to support plans to expand it beyond the 19 activities that already can be completed there.
In the coming years, Wing hopes a pavilion can be erected so more class time can be spent at the course. Looking even further down the road, his plans include one day bringing a zip line which allows individuals who are strapped into a harness connected to a pulley to ride down an incline along a hanging cable.
“We’re an extremely small community,” says Bob Bamberg, head of the Alleghany County Chamber of Commerce, who estimates the entire county includes only about 10,000 permanent residents. “When we try to try to recruit someone to come into the community to provide a professional service or recruit industry, any amenity that you can offer is a plus. It’s hard sometimes to get people to come.
“If you built something like the zip line in Charlotte it might get lost,” Bamberg adds. “You build it here, and it really stands out. It shows the importance it could make.”