News

WSU challenge program may have found a new life in region

By Dennis Box

The Courier-Herald

When Washington State University returned the 147-acre demonstration forest to its original owner, the Weyerhaeuser Company, more than just the fate of the forest was at stake.

The fate of youth programs like the 4-H Challenge Program and ropes course, which is located in the demonstration forest, became an issue.

When the WSU/Weyerhaeuser deal was announced in November, Program Director Brian Brandt questioned whether the program could survive.

Since that time, Brandt said, WSU has backed a plan for a network of courses.

"We met with Metro Parks Tacoma looking at collaborating with their sites," Brandt said. "Our goal is a seven course system and my job is to find a collaborator. This can end up working out really well."

Brandt said he is working on creating five low ropes courses and seven high courses located from Everett to Olympia. The courses would be set up on various city and county properties, but managed by the WSU challenge staff.

The ropes courses are used to create trust and team building among youth participants.

"The university is committed to the construction of the courses," Brandt said. "My hope is to get courses to serve youth not being served by the courses now."

By building seven courses around the region, Brandt hopes to serve more youth programs and improve drive times to get to the course.

Some of the possible areas include a Black Diamond site and Meyer's Farm in Olympia.

Brandt said the Black Diamond site would begin as a remote outpost similar to Bonney Lake 20 years ago.

Meyer's Farm will have both a low ropes program and a high program.

The Black Diamond and Olympia sites are owned by WSU.

Brandt believes if a seven-course system can be built around the region more than 10,000 youngsters could participate each year.

School districts, programs for young people and businesses have used the challenge course in Bonney Lake.

The fate of the demo forest is still being discussed by Quadrant Homes, the property development subsidiary of the Weyerhaeuser Company, with city officials.

The forest is zoned as public facility and Quadrant will be seeking a zoning change so the property can be developed.

Wally Costello, senior vice-president of Quadrant, said initial plans for the acreage, including parks, homes and commercial areas, will be presented at an upcoming City Council meeting.

Quadrant is seeking to apply for the zone change by April 30, the deadline this year for amendments to the city's Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com.

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