Jennifer Dorsett spent years taking young people to the gravity-defying challenge course in Columbia Park to help them build teamwork, communication and other social-emotional skills as they climbed, leaped and puzzled their way through tasks.
Dorsett, a substance abuse counselor and certified prevention specialist, watched as their confidence grew and their relationships deepened with each challenge completed.
So, when she learned that the facility near the Edison Street exit wasn’t going to reopen in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, she didn’t want to let that stand.
Instead, Dorsett took over the course herself, giving it a facelift, adding new elements and renaming it Challenge Tri-Cities.
It reopened last fall.
Challenge Tri-Cities plays host to school, sports and other youth-oriented groups, plus businesses, community organizations and the like. It can accommodate groups of varying sizes and with different abilities and needs.
Dorsett loves watching participants come together and build trust as they work on challenges throughout the day.
When groups first arrive, they “may be disorganized or not sure what they’re doing, and maybe not even friendly with everyone in the group. And then by the end of the day, we get rid of those barriers, and they walk away more of a team, as better friends, more willing to speak up,” Dorsett said. “To me, that’s one of the special things. It’s nice to make those connections.”
Challenge Tri-Cities has a total of 12 high-low elements spread out on the site, which is tucked back off the road between the Edison ramp and the Kiwanis Building. The elements range from the seesaw-like Whale Watcher that sits on the ground to the Giants Ladder that soars 50 feet in the air.
Challenge Tri-Cities also has a 600-foot zipline, which can be used by groups going through the course or booked separately by private parties or used during special zipline-only days.
Despite some of the lofty elements, groups start their day at the course on the ground, tackling challenges that begin to build teamwork and communication. One example is Warp Speed, in which the group must find a way for each member to lay hands on a rubber chicken in as little time as possible.
As the day goes on, groups find themselves facing bigger and bigger challenges, such as the Giants Ladder, which is a massive ladder that participants ascend in pairs, or the Squirrel, in which one participant – attached to a rope and wearing a harness – is hoisted into the air by other group members.
Different elements seem to resonate with different participants. David Dorsett, Jennifer’s husband, said his favorite is a tightrope element – he appreciates the difficulty of it.
For Jennifer Dorsett, the Giants Ladder is a personal favorite. She’s small in stature and the ladder – with its rungs that get farther and farther apart – forces her to ask for help.
That’s the idea of the challenge course: you find success in communicating, trusting and working together.
Melyssa Wandling, coach of the cheer team at Southridge High School in Kennewick, found that to be the case. She brought members of the team last year and plans to do so again.
“In cheerleading, you obviously have to trust each other. You have to trust and communicate. It’s the perfect team bonding activity for us, and it would be good for any team,” she said.
Wandling said the Leap of Faith element, which involves taking a “leap of faith” from 25 feet in the air, was particularly meaningful. “So many girls conquered their fears,” she said.
The course has a long history at Columbia Park. It first opened in 1992 and has been operated by a few different groups over the years. It was most recently known as the Reach Beyond Ropes Course, run by a group of former facilitators.
Dorsett said that group decided not to reopen the course after Covid-19, and, instead, passed along the equipment to her. She and David invested $20,000 in sprucing it up, replacing equipment and adding new elements.
The city of Kennewick owns the land.
Challenge Tri-Cities has a staff of about 10 people.
All the staff members complete a five-day certification course through the international Association for Challenge Course Technology. Some also earn additional certifications.
In addition to the on-site course, Challenge Tri-Cities also offers off-site ground and low-element challenges to groups. It’s open to youth and adult groups, and scholarships are available.
Go to: challengetc.com.
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