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Tucked into the woods on either side of the Blueberry Hill Trail, beckoning all adventuresome souls, are the 18 wood and rope elements of Chewonki’s Challenge Course. Shelly Gibson, team development coordinator, knows each element like the back of her hand. She decides how to use them to help campers and staff learn about themselves and each other and expand their sense of the possible. 

On a sunny afternoon during this first week of camp, Gibson and her team had all the Boys Camp cabin groups out on the Challenge Course. Laughter and shouts shot up like invisible geysers through the forest. 

One group was delicately carrying what looks like a giant, neon-colored spider web horizontally through the woods. In the center of it sat a small ball they had to deliver to a bowl set on the forest floor. The task required constant attention, verbal communication, and synchronized movement (and the ability to ignore hovering mosquitoes).

Another group was trying to figure out the pattern of steps they needed to take on 12 colored circles before they could swing through the trees on a rope and land on a small platform. As each boy and the two counselors tried to solve the puzzle of the footwork, the others began making suggestions (“Now go green! Now purple!”), cheering on their mates and commiserating when a wrong choice prompted the activity leader to announce, “Sorry, red is wrong. Who’s next?” After lots of good-natured trial and error, the group discovered the proper step sequence and every one of them went swinging to the platform. At last, they stood shoulder to shoulder, like penguins on a very crowded iceberg and cheered their shared victory.

The elements are simple but the activities require 100 percent attention, participation, and cooperation. And that’s the point. 

“The goals this week were to develop group cohesion, build relationships among campers and between campers and counselors, and establish a good dynamic within each cabin group,” explains Gibson. “We want to get them thinking about trust, shared problem-solving, and supporting each other.” These values will be important both in cabin life and during their wilderness trips–not to mention in the years ahead, long after Camp Chewonki becomes a memory.