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Sarah Coumbe-Guida, left, and Jill Klotz team up on the high line at the Character Challenge Course. Submitted Photo

Character Challenge Course: Local teachers develop team obstacle adventure

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News Bemidji,Minnesota 56619 http://www.bemidjipioneer.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/1/0806/201008280828-challenge-course.jpg?itok=KFn5ndWs
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Character Challenge Course: Local teachers develop team obstacle adventure
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

To call the rope challenge course near Eagle Beach Resort in Hubbard County an aerial adventure park would be selling it short.

For many, it will be a life-changing experience.

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The course off Hubbard County Road 40 is the brainchild of Travis and Sarah Coumbe-Guida.

The Bemidji couple and parents of four bought the land adjacent to the resort, which is owned by Sarah's parents. They formed the Character Challenge Course Co., or C4.

Travis teaches in the Work-Based Learning Program in Bemidji and Sarah is a special education teacher at the Cass Lake Elementary School.

The couple spent summers at the resort, helping Sarah's parents and running camps for special needs kids and families.

They devised ways to allow the kids to grow, communicate, cooperate and develop a sense of trust and self-confidence, which many kids at risk lacked.

If you teach life skills such as character building, parenting, overcoming phobias and learning how to achieve mental well-being, the couple rationalized, they'd have a more willing audience if those lessons were paired with recreational activities.

But it's "challenge by choice," Sarah said. The course has challenges for all vertical and physical limits, for all strength and agility levels. No one forces you to do something you're uncomfortable doing.

There's a zip line that affords a spectacular view of Potato Lake, the "Wild Woozy," a rope ladder strung 30 feet in the air between two Norway pines.Submitted Photo

Sarah Coumbe-Guida, left, and Jill Klotz team up on the high line at the Character Challenge Course.

Want to test your fear of heights? Step off a high pole and reach for a trapeze up in the tree tops. Or there's the Initiatives Wall you climb over with the help of your team.

The course was built right into the woods, preserving its natural feel. Ropes and platforms wind in and out of the trees.

"We wanted to keep the woods natural," Sarah said. "There's a real beauty in keeping the environment intact. It's kind of like a sanctuary in here."

The course, designed by a certified company called The Adventure Guild in Tennessee, promotes teamwork and trust. It's not an individual challenge. It's a group activity, although individuals are welcome to come out.

If you're afraid of heights, you can be an equally important part of the team on the ground, or participate in the low rope activities a foot off the ground.

Cheerleading is a vital part of the challenge, encouraging someone in a harness to reach farther, to try harder because there's security in the team holding the rope.

The "rope jockeys" on the ground play a pivotal role as spotters, motivators and safety guardians. Literally and figuratively, challenge facilitators are asking you to take a leap of faith. The Guidas said once you have, it's a liberating experience.

"It's a lot of fun," said a grinning Tom Marcussen of Park Rapids, who went through the training.

"Cool," said Bill Buggert of Lake Emma, as he landed on the zip line platform. "It's hard work being a facilitator," the retired Air Force man said.

Due to strict liability concerns, the couple had the Tennessee company design the course and put employees through a rigorous 40-hour training course. The Adventure Guild's owner, Don Stock, kept things moving, explaining how each knot ties to the harnesses, how participants would fall if they opted out of the challenges or quit midway or simply slipped, checking the harnesses to see if they pinched anyone.

Stock said if participants can "climb a ladder" they could participate in the higher challenges. "You need a moderate level of physical fitness," he said.

The perception of risk is what makes the courses valuable training exercises, the Guidas said. Fear of the risk makes people reach outside their comfort zone to experience new things. In surrendering their security, participants must put their trust in their team to help them reach a goal.

The exercises can be adapted to faith-based teachings as well. The Guidas said church groups will be among their target customers, as well as school groups, families and co-workers.

"I'm having a blast," said Bemidji special educator Lee Swanson, who went through the training. "Kids with troubled backgrounds, trust is a big issue. They can learn that here. And low-income kids can come to get outside and share in the fun."

There was an unanticipated benefit to the training exercises. An adventure etiquette or affirmation sprang up spontaneously as each facilitator-trainee learned the different roles.

"Thanks for pulling up the rope, Bill...I felt really secure in my harness, thanks...Thanks for grabbing my hand...I'm not doing this alone now. I can feel my rope crew behind me," could be heard throughout the woods.

The Guidas prefer that initially groups make reservations, but the course is open to the public. You can make a reservation by going to www.characterchallengecourse.com or call 760-8442.

The rates are $30 per adult for the five-element high courses, $25 for youths 75 pounds or larger. For the low team initiatives, the charge is $15 per adult, $12 for youths. You can add individual elements if you wish for an additional fee.

On Sept. 25 the Guidas will host a free session for educators and up to four guests apiece. It will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Through August the course will be open Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. This fall it will be open weekends.

"The camaraderie and adventure, it's an exhilarating experience," Sarah said

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Pioneer staff reports
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