Out with the old, in with the new: Riverfront Park to open new challenge course

USF Riverfront Park’s new challenge course will give students and faculty numerous social, physical and mental obstacles to overcome, while providing a fresh experience for students. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/USF RECREATION AND WELLNESS

USF Recreation and Wellness is opening a new three-tier challenge course at USF Riverfront Park for students and organizations to rise to the challenge.

The $206,000 challenge course will be a three-tier ropes course that will include multiple obstacles and experiences, such as being suspended in the air in a harness and gliding on a tandem zip line, according to Shea Van Alstyne, challenge course coordinator for USF Recreation and Wellness.

Van Alstyne said the course will provide the community a fresh experience that stands out from other activities at Riverfront Park. It will also be available to any USF organization wanting to rent it out beginning Sept. 24.

“The experience also leads to team building and different activities to help things such as problem solving, leadership and communication,” Van Alstyne said.

The course will be a completely new addition to the park, replacing the original challenge course that has been around for about 20 years. Beyond providing a team-building experience for students and organizations, Van Alstyne said the purpose of the challenge course is to be more accessible to enjoy for everyone.

“Eighteen years ago, we built the first ever USF challenge course,” she said. “Challenge courses have a certain lifespan, and that is around 20 years. Our original one didn’t pass its latest inspection, and the amount it would take to fix the things that needed fixing was about the same as replacing.

“We went through the process of designing and finding what would fit our community best for a challenge course, as well as keeping in mind the accessibility of it, because our last course had some limits to accessibility. Our brand new one will have no limits when it comes to people’s physical, mental, emotional abilities.”

Construction for the challenge course began Aug. 19 and will end the week of Sept. 6, according to Van Alstyne. Staff will begin training Sept. 12.

“The way the challenge course operates is by giving USF groups the opportunity to sign up for it,” she said. “Say you’re part of a sports club, Greek life or a different organization on campus, your organization can sign up to partake in team building at our highest challenge course, along with some other pay-to-play events we have at the park.”

Aside from events for campus organizations, students can participate in the challenge course by attending select events, with the first being Bulls Nite Out on Sept. 24, and the next being the Climb with Pride event Oct. 9. A full list of upcoming events will be available on the park’s website. Prices also vary by event, however Bulls Nite Out is free for students.

Jason Gosch, assistant director of outdoor recreation, said the course is about learning and utilizing skills beyond the notion of physical endurance.

“The ability to bring team building from our park into anywhere on campus or even off campus is an aspect that has been a part of this community for a little over 20 years,” he said. “It’s also tied into academic programs.

“It’s a really cool experience, and the ability to kind of provide that as a team building service for the university.”

Van Alstyne said the course will also be a way to welcome new students and organizations in the future, as activities like this have been a foundation of college orientations and experiences.

While opening a new course with campuses returning to full capacity may seem like it would provide overwhelming crowds, Cindy Reilly, USF Recreation and Wellness challenge course coordinator, said the pandemic prepared them for the uptick in student activity this year.

“Obviously, the number of students visiting [Riverfront Park] has gone up compared to last year alone, but we were still fairly busy out there during the pandemic because it was an outside area and a lot of people were trying to look for outdoor things to do,” she said. “It’s pretty easy to stay safe and social distance out at the park and on the river.”

To maintain visitors safe, Reilly said many safety protocols from the previous year have been kept in place, such as sanitizing life jackets, canoes and other equipment, as well as expecting students to wear masks when checking in and interacting with staff.

As for future plans for the park beyond the upcoming challenge course, Gosch said maintaining and updating certain older amenities and transportation solutions will be a main focus going forward.

“We are currently looking at some updates to the park, as the park itself was built quite a long time ago, and some of those structures are the original structures, including the boathouse itself and our bathrooms out there,” he said.

“We’re also currently looking at ways to continue to make the park more accessible and more convenient for people to get out there. The costs to run additional shuttles out to the park with our coordinating transportation services are expensive, so we’re trying to figure out some creative ways to make transportation accessible for students that maybe don’t have a car to get out to the park.”