Children can now take a walk among the tree branches in Ahwahnee 30 feet above the ground thanks to California Lions Camp Pacifica's newly finished challenge course.
Children attending Camp Pacifica's deaf camp last week were the first to use it besides instructors. However, the ropes course is open to all Madera County children free of charge.
The challenge course was made possibly by a $25,000 matching grant from the Chukchansi Community Grant program in 2011 that was matched by the Lions Club International Foundation. Diane Peterson, who wrote the grant, said there were also a lot of donations.
"It's great to have it done and move onto something else," Peterson said. "It's wonderful and it's going to benefit the community so much."
An old challenge course was closed in 2002 when it was deemed unsafe. The course had been attached to trees that were killed by tree borers and both the course and the trees had to be removed. The new course, which was built by Kennerly de Forest of Challenge Works, is built off telephone poles instead of trees. The course is comprised of five wire ropes, a 400-foot zipline and a vertical playpen.
"It's so great," Peterson said. "You look at it and it doesn't look like much, but each little element teaches so much."
There were 50 campers ages 6-15, plus about 35 counselors and staff members at Camp Pacifica last week.
Lisa Perez, camp program director, said the challenge course gives campers more motivation to face a new challenge and have a new experience while learning teamwork and leadership and building stronger relationships with friends.
"They seem to really enjoy it," Perez said. "They're nervous, of course, but it motivates them."
Emily Hughes, 11, of Fremont, was one of the first campers to utilize the new camp. Although she herself isn't deaf, she is a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA) one of about 15 CODAs at the deaf camp.
"It was challenging, but I overcame my fear of heights a little," she said. "I was scared at first, but I kept going. I had my best friend to help me get through it and get higher."
Hughes' best friend, Kayla Wetterlind, 13, of Lancaster, is also a CODA. She was right there alongside Hughes trying to make it to the top of the first challenge the vertical play pen.
"It was nerve-wracking," Wetterlind said. "I've never climbed heights before but just focused on it and was happy Emily was there to help me through. Now I think I could do it again."
Eight people from the Mountain Area have volunteered their time and funds to be course instructors, and they all underwent a 32-hour training course.
Instructors include: Ellen and John Peterson; Heather Pincus, a teacher at Spring Valley; Jennifer Shaquia, interpreter for the deaf; Leslie Peterson, a teacher at Wasuma; Laurel Duckworth, a teacher at Oak Creek Intermediate; and Adrian Baker, a recent Yosemite High School graduate.
Baker said being a challenge course guide for deaf camp has been fun, and he is even beginning to learn some American Sign Language.
"The whole thing is a lot of fun," Baker said. "The joy on the kids faces is intense, and I love it."
The course will be open all year depending on weather and volunteer schedules.
A dedication for the challenge course will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10 at Camp Pacifica. The public is invited to attend. If time and space is available, guides will accommodate those who wish to do the challenge course. Closed-toe shoes must be worn on the course. Anyone interested in attending should RSVP to Diane Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.