The Browne Center

A Shrinking Educational and Therapeutic Tool

A Shrinking Educational and Therapeutic Tool

by Tara Flippo

The Browne Center staff see the challenge course as a tool rather than the end goal.  To inform the program design and achieve the desired outcomes of the personal & organizational goals/objectives, we make it a point to do an in-depth client needs assessment.

Challenge courses with educational and therapeutic purposes are shrinking in number because of:

  1. The increase in lawsuits (due to the commercial side of the industry),
  2. The rising costs to run a challenge course,
  3. The decrease in client numbers (numbers are shrinking with cuts to funding), and
  4. Pressure from state regulators (e.g. CA this past year shut down courses and 8 months later reversed that decision).

Conversely, in the last ten years, the number of Adventure Parks in the U.S. has gone from four to over five hundred.

With the rise in Adventure Parks- more and more clients inquire into how much time will be spent on high elements or in requesting “climbing only” programs.  Some of these clients will be better served in going to a climbing wall or Adventure Park as they have little to no interest in community building and/or team development.

This may sound like simply preference, but the dilemma of being coupled with commercial recreational enterprises goes deeper.

An Important Role

A new “Educational Uses” (EU) Committee has been formed by our industry organization, the Association for Challenge Course Technology, to help educate and highlight the important role that challenge courses, like The Browne Center, play.

Transformative work for individuals and groups is being overshadowed by the large influx of cash and the novelty of Adventure Parks and zip tours.  At the most recent meeting of the EU Committee, a colleague from the West Coast likened an educational challenge course to a bicycle and an Adventure Park to a car.  While these tools of the trade share some things in common, the differences are much more significant, and they require an understanding of those differences.  However some clients and state regulators want to put them in the same bucket.

Can you imagine installing airbags on a bike?

The Difference

It is important that clients, operating staff, and regulators become educated about the differences.

A commercial enterprise uses a “high tech approach” of moving many customers through the experience (high volume, low touch approach) with employees who may have minimal training.

Contrast this with the educational and therapeutic fields using experienced facilitators running programs with much more basic equipment with a higher degree of training/experience (low volume and high touch approach).  Additionally, traditional “student-centered” approaches often strive to empower the client to be part of the experience through participant belays, creating one’s own harness, and co-designing their ground rules for managing behaviors.

Our wish is for our clients to be informed consumers who know they will have two very different experiences when they take the time to compare commercial versus educational/therapeutic settings.



The Browne Center has been providing innovative experiential learning programs since the early 1980s. We provide a wide range of programming from comprehensive trainings to shorter one-day sessions. Our learning programs evolve to meet the needs of our clients and our diverse client base allows us to draw upon best practices from a variety of disciplines and remain sensitive to specific needs and outcomes.

Creating a dynamic program based on your group's specific goals is our approach with every single client. We can provide an action-packed program to meet your needs – whether you are coming together as a new group, integrating new members, building positive group relationships, addressing specific behaviors, or striving for performance excellence.