Designing Outdoor Adventure Programs: A Systematic Approach

by Bob Tremblay

Following is a sample chapter from my thesis, Designing Outdoor Adventure Programs: A Systematic Approach (copyright 2004 Robert Tremblay) . If you are interested in purchasing a copy of the entire thesis, which is full of valuable information for anyone interested in creating a new, or expanding an existing outdoor adventure program or business, please email me at fivestaradventuresinfo@yahoo.com and I can send you a bound or an unbound copy.


ABSTRACT

This project-based thesis explores the developmental histories of diverse outdoor adventure programs as surveyed directly from the founders and developers of those programs. The thesis describes the common issues and challenges inherent in these histories and proposes a suggested model would-be developers of adventure programs could follow when creating and building new adventure programs. This model is fully described and articulated in manual form as the central project of the thesis. The conclusion of the thesis suggests further areas of exploration and study that could be undertaken to provide additional resources that would prove helpful to prospective adventure program developers.

CHAPTERS

I. INTRODUCTION .............................................................................................................. 1

II. LITERATURE REVIEW .................................................................................................... 6

III. METHODOLOGY ........................................................................................................... 11

Adventure Program Developers/Founders Survey.............................................................. 12
Survey Responses ............................................................................................................. 13
Evaluation .......................................................................................................................... 20

IV. RESEARCH RESULTS .................................................................................................... 23

Independence of Adventure Program Developers ............................................................ 23
Funding Challenges and Lack of Business Training ......................................................... 23
Flexible Mission Statements ............................................................................................ 24
Diverse Populations but Similar Activities ...................................................................... 25
Start-Up Funding, Cash Flow, and Marketing ................................................................. 26
Business Structures .......................................................................................................... 29
Risk Management and Insurance ...................................................................................... 30
Developmental Process of Adventure Programs .............................................................. 30

V. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS ........................................................ 32

APPENDICES

APPENDIX A. Adventure Program Development Survey ........................................... 36

APPENDIX B. A Demographic Survey of Adventure Education Professionals .......... 64

APPENDIX C. Designing Outdoor Adventure Programs: A Systematic Approach .... 76

 

DESIGNING OUTDOOR ADVENTURE PROGRAMS: A SYSTEMATIC APPROACH

The creation of an Adventure Program is a process that moves and evolves through a number of distinct stages. Each of these plays a critical role in the development of the adventure program as it evolves from a beginning concept to an active enterprise. This process and the associated stages can be seen as a continuum with the resulting program functioning in a constant state of evolution as it adapts to the various forces, both within and outside the organization, that influence its day-to-day operations and its character over time. By investigating the developmental histories of a number of adventure programs (including Kroka Expeditions, Community Counseling Center Adventures in Learning, Shackleton Schools, Inc., Outdoor Leadership Training Seminars, SOLO, Paul Rezendes Programs in Tracking, Northern Essex Community College, Wilderness School, Walnut Hill Tracking and Nature Center and others), I have been able to identify the phases that each program's developmental stories have in common. Through interviews and surveys with key individuals (adventure program founders and administrators), I have developed a systematic outline describing the developmental stages inherent in the creation of an adventure program. My intention is that by drawing this information together and identifying the considerations associated with each developmental stage, ambitious adventure professionals will have a tool to help them dream, create, develop, and implement the next generation of adventure programs.


Brainstorming


Initial Conceptualizing

The initial burst of creativity, the spark of an idea that gives birth to a new adventure program, represents the least predictable element associated with identifying a standard model that describes the developmental process of creating an adventure program. This idea sometimes comes from a moment of inspiration by a single individual but it also is sometimes born during a formal or informal discussion among several different people. My research has revealed that this idea can come from a single inspired thought (Paul Rezendes Programs in Tracking), a long-simmering notion (Mountain Lynx Outdoor Adventures), or a calculated and formulated decision (Wilderness School). Reaching back to the initial conceptualizing moment in the histories of different adventure programs has revealed some interesting stories.
As diverse as these stories are, there are certain commonalities that exist among them. The initial moment of conceptualization in each of these stories was powerful enough to have motivated the individual or the group that was there at that beginning moment to commit to the idea and to act with conviction to build a foundation that would ground the ephemeral concept, the vision, in the tangible world. Adventure programs are built upon ideas that are developed by action-oriented people who have the aptitude and ambition to create and explore a new endeavor despite an uncertain outcome and the demands of mental and physical effort. Adventure program developers are dreamers, risk-takers, creators, explorers, initiators, and self-motivators. In this sense, adventure program developers are adventurers in the most true sense of the word.
Mission Considerations
While the idea or ideas that were developed during the initial conceptualizing phase were powerful enough to motivate action, those ideas are still intangible visions until actions are taken to begin building a structure that will give the concept momentum and an eventual physical presence and identity. The first of these actions should be the recognition of a mission and the beginnings of a possible mission statement. I suggest that at this beginning stage of the adventure program's development, there are two types of missions or objectives that are motivating the program developers to action: Personal Goals and Programming Goals.
Mission Considerations: Personal Goals
At this very early stage of development, the Personal Goals are of primary importance and if these goals are not being met, it is unlikely that the would-be founder(s) developing the program will be able to stay motivated enough to commit to the work of developing the program. Adventure program developers are people who have ambitions and desires and one of these desires must be a personal realization or goal that is achieved through the work of creating the program. My research has found that the personal goals of the program developers I surveyed are highly individual and specific. One of the primary motivations behind the development of adventure programming at Northern Essex (Massachusetts) Community College during the late 1970's was the desire of founders David Antaya and Dave Brown to work together. Paul Rezendes started his Programs in Tracking as a natural progression of his spiritual growth and personal discoveries in Zen Buddhist teachings. Kurt Hahn's initial motivation for developing Outward Bound as a character-building program was to be able to contribute to the efforts to defeat the Nazis during the second World War. My own motivation in creating and developing Mountain Lynx Outdoor Adventures was a desire to be self-employed. In those instances where my research subjects did not identify the personal goals they had in starting their adventure programs, some of these goals could be inferred indirectly through the programming goals they were able to identify. Examples of these would include the desire to help at-risk youth, the desire to connect people closer to the environment, or to share their passion in the outdoors with others. The importance of these personal goals may diminish in significance over time as other individuals become a part of the program's momentum and operation but at the very beginning stage, the primary mission of the developing adventure program should be to attempt to meet the personal goals of the conceiving founders. With this in mind, those developing new adventure programs should identify as specifically as possible what their personal goals in developing the adventure program are and they should ensure that their efforts in developing the program are centered around the satisfaction of these personal goals. As time continues, and personal goals are achieved, new goals should be identified and the program should be modified to help achieve these personal goals. Dr. Frank Hubbell created SOLO to train and educate wilderness leaders and outdoor professionals in extended care techniques for medical emergencies in a remote setting. This personal goal of Dr. Hubbell's has been achieved and is ongoing but in recent years he has identified a new personal goal, to develop medical trainings for missionaries operating in less-developed countries, and SOLO has begun offering and marketing such trainings (F. Hubbell, personal conversation October 9, 2003). In contrast, Paul Rezendes created Paul Rezendes Programs in Tracking as a means for enjoy a self-employed lifestyle and also to give him a means to share his viewpoints on the interconnectedness of all things by teaching tracking and the art of seeing. After 20 years of doing exactly this, Paul recently has found that his interests in photography have grown and have superseded his former interests in teaching tracking. The pursuit of this personal goal would not be possible through the fairly rigid structure Paul's Programs in Tracking was built around and so in order to pursue his new interests, he decided he had to close his tracking school (P. Roy, personal conversation September 4, 2003). SOLO is an example of a program that has been able to survive by adapting to accommodate the changing and evolving personal goals of its' founder while Program in Tracking is an example of a program that was built around a specific goal and structured in such a way that it could not continue once its' founder had identified new personal goals.
Mission Considerations: Programming Goals
When developing an adventure program, probably the very first programming goal to consider is whether the program should be educationally or recreationally based. In this case, I am identifying an "educationally-based" adventure program as one where the primary mission of the program is to promote growth, change, and learning using outdoor adventure activities as the vehicle to education. Contrastly, a "recreationally-based" adventure program focuses on the delivery of adventure activities as a vehicle for recreational enjoyment and enrichment. While there are overlaps between these two categories, (recreational participants will learn new skills and perceptions and educational students will likely enjoy the recreational aspect of adventure activities) the difference exists in the primary focus of each type of program. This one decision will influence virtually every aspect of the program including program design, the name of the program, areas of operation, staffing, client base, marketing, and business structure. An educationally-based adventure program is one where the primary purpose of the program is to promote change or growth (examples include academic goals, therapeutic goals, and social skills) in its participants. Outdoor adventure activities are used as a method to achieve these educational goals. A recreationally-based program is one where the primary purpose of the program lies in the recreational rewards offered by participating in outdoor adventure activities. While the decision to be educationally- or recreationally-based does not have to be an either/or choice, it is best if the program can make a decision to lean towards either an educational or recreational orientation. Sometimes, as was the case with the outdoor adventure program at Northern Essex Community College, the recreational programs and the funds they draw can be used to support the educational programs (D. Antaya, personal conversation, September 28, 2003). For this reason, this decision must be made carefully and the reasoning behind the eventual decision should be well understood. During the course of my career working in various adventure programs designed around both recreational and educational missions, some of the factors my experience has shown are important to consider when making this decision are as follows:

Recreational Programs
Pros
· more conducive to profit-making
· outdoor staff do not necessarily have to have strong educational or counseling skills
· can easily include a retail component (gear shop)
· accreditation by an outside agency usually not required
· more likely to reach a potentially affluent client base with discretionary income
Cons
· can be difficult to secure outside grants for start-up funding
· direct competition with other recreational providers and services for clients & programming areas
Educational Programs
Pros
· more conducive to establishing tax-exempt status
· easier access to government grants
· more immediately able to promote social change and individual growth
Cons
· likely to need accreditation or certification from an outside agency
· more likely to serve a client base that does not provide its own participation fees
· likely to require staff with higher educational credentials
· will require course designs with a sequenced curriculum and outcome objectives
It should be stressed again that none of the pros or cons listed above are exclusive to either orientation. There are many examples in adventure programming where educationally oriented programs operate successfully as for-profit businesses (for example SOLO and Paul Rezendes Programs in Tracking) and there are just as many examples where recreationally oriented programs are delivered within an educational institution (examples include the Dartmouth Outing Club at Dartmouth College and the recreational programs offered through the Appalachian Mountain Club) . Rather, the pros and cons described above are typically associated with the categories in which they are listed. The art of developing an adventure program that is unique is to consider all of the various options and to build these considerations into a program in a way that serves the specific goals and interests of the program founders and the clients that will be served by the program to be developed.
Once the basic mission of the program has been determined with respect to the achievement of the recognized personal goals of the program developers and the recreational or educational orientation of the program, it is advisable to begin considering drawing up a preliminary draft of a program mission statement. At this early stage, this mission statement can be fairly informal and it should allow a certain amount of flexibility as the outside world begins to exert its influence on the creation of the program. However, some sort of a written mission statement will provide a defining center point around which future decisions regarding the program's development can be made.
Operational Considerations
With the mission considerations identified, the next task in developing the adventure program is to decide on the actions that will be undertaken to support the underlying mission of the program. These operational considerations will provide the framework around which the program's services will be designed.
Operational Considerations: What activities and services will be offered?
When determining the activities and services that the adventure program will offer, my experience developing and expanding several different adventure programs over a near 20 year period has shown me that the following issues need to be considered:
· proximity to or accessibility to appropriate activity areas (rock climbing crags, hiking areas, rivers, mountain ranges, coast lines, etc.)
· capabilities and interests of staff
· permitting and licensing requirements
· length of program season(s)
· market demand/need
· profit margin
The type of activities to be offered (rock climbing, hiking, canoeing, etc.) are often determined very early on in the minds of the individuals who have the initial inspirational concept. In fact, I found that the founder's personal interest in a particular activity or set of activities and his or her desire to pursue those activities or share their experience through their own program was a major component of the motivational goals for each of the programs involved in my survey. To put it differently, individuals who like to climb often want to start a climbing program and individuals who had a dramatically positive summer camp experience often want to replicate that by developing their own summer camp. The activities that the program is eventually built around are a reflection of the personal interests and expertise of the developers.
Operational Considerations: What will make this program different and unique?
Successful adventure programs all have some characteristic, image, or product that makes them unique from other adventure programs. Recognizing this, the developers of a new adventure program should build this into their program at the very outset. I have been able to discover a number of ways in which successful adventure programs have established their own unique characters. Some of these are as follows:
· exclusivity of adventure services being offered in the immediate region
· exclusivity of services being offered to a particular client base
· cost of services being offered
· leadership by a recognized personality or individual
· exclusive access to a particular activity area
· recognized leader in a particular programming field
· unique program delivery
· unique program offerings
· enhanced value-added services
· name recognition
Operational Considerations: What will make this program consistent with the values of Adventure Education?
While it is important that the new adventure program be designed in such a way that it is able to establish its' own unique identity, it is also important that the program be designed to operate in a manner that is consistent with the ideals and values practiced in the field of Adventure Education today. Two of the fundamental values that are a part of adventure education are a commitment to environmental stewardship and to positive social change.
· Environmental Stewardship: The fact that most adventure programs rely on having access to wild lands to operate places a legal responsibility on those programs to minimize the impact their activities make on the wild areas they use. From a very practical standpoint, adventure programs must ensure that they have permission to operate on the lands they utilize and they must also be sure that they are aware of the environmental restrictions the landowner requires when allowing access to these lands. These restrictions could vary widely depending on the landowner and the area. Public and private lands often have a minimum requirement that all trash and waste that is carried in be carried out and campfire and overnight permits are also typically required as well. Additional restrictions may prohibit off-trail hiking, collecting of plants, rocks, or other artifacts, disturbance of wildlife, after-dusk use, and limitations to group size. Sometimes advance reservations for use and the practice of minimum-impact techniques may also be required. While the adventure program in these cases has a legal requirement to respect the requests of the landowner, these restrictions also provide an opportunity for the program to bring an environmental perspective to their program delivery.
The adventure program additionally has an ethical obligation to respect the interests of the landowners and other people who have an interest in the wild lands that are being used (Hunt, 1994). Taking precautions that minimize the program's impact on the environment would respect and protect the interests of those who want the environment to be protected. A moral analysis with this perspective would reveal that techniques that minimize and protect the natural environment are the ethical and morally responsible actions to take.
It can be seen that for an adventure program to not operate in a manner that is environmentally aware can be both legally and morally wrong. To not operate in such a manner is also inconsistent with the peer practices seen in the adventure fields today. The reality is that a program that failed to operate as an environmentally friendly land-user would likely find itself barred from using most public and private lands and it would also find itself with very little support in the Adventure Education and Recreation communities. Such a program would likely not last very long. For this reason, it is found that nearly every one of the many adventure organizations in operation today (including outdoor skills schools, guiding and outfitting operations, college and university programs, adventure tourism companies, outing clubs, scouting groups, camps, etc.) has an established set of operating policies designed to minimize the environmental impact of their programs.
Modern adventure programs typically have some sort of environmental policy to minimize the impact their activities have on the environments where they operate. This policy is carried forth by a series of specific procedures and actions that dictate how the adventure leaders conduct the field experiences they lead. The implementation of these policies creates a powerful learning tool for developing and heightening environmental awareness with the AE students and clients. Though these policies are largely established as operational standards, they can also function as programmatic opportunities.
Making students and clients aware of the minimum impact policies of the AE program helps the participants appreciate the professionalism and credibility of the adventure organization itself. Explaining why these procedures are in place educates the group towards the impact their actions have on natural systems. This education creates an awareness where one may not have previously existed. Teaching the minimum impact procedures to the group gives them practical skills in reducing their environmental impact that they can metaphorically adapt to their at-home lives.
By explaining the environmental policy and teaching the group about the associated procedures, real environmental concepts are learned. Procedures involving wilderness camping help students learn about the concepts of soil impaction, wastewater percolation, impact dispersal and concentration, and resource management. By experiencing these procedures first-hand, the adventure participants learn about significant environmental concepts through direct participation with the natural world. Just as natural history lessons tied to the specific activity locale can help students/clients understand the concept of environmental diversity, the minimum impact practices of the adventure programming can help the adventure participants understand previously esoteric environmental concepts regarding the interactions between the human systems and the natural systems of the earth. These understandings complement the fundamental Adventure Educational goal of enriching participant's lives and promoting personal growth and sense of connection (Chorney, n. d.).
· Positive Social Change: The delivery of adventure services and the approaches and practices of Adventure Education can affect positive social change. This can be done deliberately through effective adventure therapy in a mental health agency or it can be enacted subtly through community-based adventure recreation opportunities. I feel that because Adventure has this ability to affect social change, that it also has a responsibility to do so. If the developer of a new adventure program wants their program to be consistent with the recognized philosophical goals of the greater field of Adventure Education, they should be aware of this ability and design their programs to acknowledge this responsibility.
Therapeutic adventure programming can be an effective way to treat at-risk adolescents, particularly urban youth, with curative and healthy opportunities (Davis-Berman, 1994). Adventure programs that utilize this particular application are designed to use the outdoor adventure experience as a means to promote personal growth and behavioral change in its' participants. Such programs can serve a diverse population base including but not being limited to "at-risk" youth, substance abusers, and adjudicated offenders as well as healthy adults and college students. Regardless of the population, the outdoor adventure experience is used as a catalyst to a new awareness of self. The goal of such programs is to help participants achieve a sense of wholeness in which the conscious and unconscious of inner world and outer relationships becomes synchronized, integrated, and simplified (Noshpitz, n.d.). In achieving these goals, the adventure program is able to provide a valuable service to society.
A very different use of adventure education, with very different program goals, involves the use of Adventure in the Classroom (AITC). The philosophy of Adventure in the Classroom is to adapt the teambuilding and challenge components of the traditional outdoor adventure experience to a classroom setting to bring about effective learning of traditional school subjects. AITC curricula are experiential-based focusing on hands-on learning of real world subject matter. It is possible that an AITC curriculum may not involve any outdoor activities or wilderness adventure components. The AITC model asks teachers to examine the qualities of adventure rather than the setting. With most learning and activity time being spent in a classroom as opposed to a natural outdoor setting, AITC programs can appear to be an "adventure program" by name only. By presenting a new approach to education that involves multi-sensory opportunities, the field of Adventure Education can serve society by complementing and affecting the traditional school curriculum (Henton, 1996).
Adventure recreation programs can effectively draw together people from diverse age groups, economic, and cultural backgrounds, providing an opportunity for these people to interact, relate, and appreciate each other that may not have otherwise existed. My own company, Mountain Lynx, was very effective at this as our guided recreation trips routinely served groups that involved people of all ages and diverse backgrounds from an approximate 1 hour's drive from our operational base in Westminster, Massachusetts. Programs that offer guided outdoor adventure experiences to the general public are sometimes referred to as "Task-Oriented" programs, referring to the fact that such programs are often centered around a particular activity or objective (learning to rock climb, ski, hike, rafting a river, or climb mountains). Such programs are often for-profit enterprises and as such, making a profit is an important objective of the program. However, a wise operator of such a business often realizes that running programs with an "added value" element to them is effective in attracting repeat clients. This "added value" can often be providing clients with a feeling of success, accomplishment, and personal growth as described for therapeutic/personal growth adventure programs. The challenge here is that the competent adventure educator needs to deliver this component effectively and subtly as clients who are drawn to seek a guided recreational experience may be put off if the program seems to be overly therapeutic or educationally based. With my company, Mountain Lynx, we achieved this subtle approach by acting genuine, sharing our knowledge of natural history with people with a conversational tone as opposed to a heavy-handed lecture or "preaching" style. We acted friendly and socially with our clients, modeling and creating a tone that encouraged and allowed our client groups to socialize and interact with each other. I can not see any reason why such an approach could not also be adopted by a non-profit adventure program as well. By drawing diverse groups of people together to interact, relate, and play together, adventure recreation programs serve society by creating community and developing relationships between diverse peoples.

 

If you have further questions, don't hesitate to contact me!
Five-Star Adventures
c/o Bob Tremblay
54 Phillipston Road
Templeton, MA 01468

Email:
fivestaradventuresinfo@yahoo.com

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