Nicholas Van Valkenburg, 13, of Medford, takes his turn on the “Leap of Faith” at the opening of Prescott Park’s new challenge course Saturday. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore

rising to the Challenge

"You got it, Reid. You got this, man!"

Sixteen-year-old Reid Gibson perches on a small, wooden platform in a tree 35 feet off the ground, looking down at a crowd of about 20 people below him at Medford's Prescott Park.

"Deep breaths, man, deep breaths, you're doing fine," one of the onlookers counsels.

Reid swallows hard, then asks his belaying team to loosen up the rope attached to his back a bit. They slack off slightly, just enough for him to adjust his full-body harness and check his helmet again. The platform didn't look so high from the ground, but perspectives change when you're about to jump into 35 feet of pure nothingness.

"All right!" Reid says, reassuring himself. "All right ... One, two, three!"

He steps off the platform into thin air, fear nearly paralyzing him at the last second.

He hangs suspended for a fraction of a second, then the rope goes taut and he swings back and forth through the air, the whoops and cheers of the crowd washing over him.

His belaying team lowers him slowly to the ground, where he unfastens himself from the rope and takes off his helmet and harness. His body is still trembling from the adrenaline, heart pounding and legs shaking.

"The only part that's really bad is the very first part, right when you jump off," says the North Medford junior. "For a second there I forgot I had a rope on my back, but then I felt the tension and it was just fun."

Reid had just done the "Leap of Faith," one of many challenges at the new Prescott Park Challenge Course on Roxy Ann Peak.

The course is a collaborative project between the city of Medford Parks and Recreation Department and Synergo, a Portland-based company that builds and operates challenge courses in Oregon and Washington.

The grand opening Saturday gave about 100 attendees a chance to test out more than a dozen installations hidden around Prescott Park, including zip lines, a gigantic swing, obstacle courses and more.

In the future, the course will be open only to groups who have reserved the park ahead of time, as many of the challenges require supervision and safety gear. But on Saturday, all comers were welcome to try out Medford's newest attraction for free.

Synergo specializes in leadership training and individual development, and the challenges strung between trees and erected throughout the course have two purposes: to challenge participants to work together and trust each other, and to challenge them to push their boundaries. Trained Synergo facilitators will staff the challenge course, offering advice and support, and teaching teamwork and leadership to participants.

"We talk a lot about trust in our schools and our communities, but there are few opportunities to actually show it," says Erik Marter, co-owner of Synergo. "The challenge course that sits around us is a tool. It's also kind of a playground, but mostly it's a tool ... the challenge course is a place where we can play, have fun, and see how our actions affect others."

Some of the challenges could be mistaken for playground equipment. "The Junkyard," for example, is a 7-year-old's dream, a vertical obstacle course suspended between two trees featuring car tires, rope ladders and a wooden bench at the top.

Another challenge is called the "Whale Watch," where participants have to work together to balance a large wooden platform, and adjust accordingly when team members are added or removed from the platform.

"Team-builders are a wonderful opportunity for schools, for communities and for families," says Kathy LeBel, who attended the opening. "I could see a family reunion here being a blast."

LeBel, who works at the CenturyLink call center, said upwards of 250 people are in and out of her workplace every day. In that kind of environment, she says, teamwork is essential.

"We would definitely benefit from learning to work together and having the opportunity to grow," she says. "There's a lot of family dynamic (in the workplace), you have leaders and you have followers."

Sheri Richmond-Getty, another attendee, says team-building skills would be very useful at Rogue Valley Advanced Wound Center, where she works as a nurse.

"Your work is a very important part of your life," she says. "And to enhance something like that through something like this ... we are very, very lucky. I can see this being a major benefit to the valley."

While the challenge course builds teamwork and teaches leadership, it's also quite a bit of fun, she adds.

"I'm not going to be thinking about work when I'm up there," she says, gesturing to the Leap of Faith challenge that tested Reid's mettle. "This is so great."

Reach reporting intern Nils Holst at 541-776-4368 or email

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