LANESBOROUGH -- "Oh my goodness," shouted Javier Osorio as he shuffled and swung across the timber-construction obstacle course suspended 15 to 20 feet in the air.
His Reid Middle School classmate, Sal Amaral, was shaky at first, but soon found his footing. The eighth-grader described the course as "fun but challenging."
The Pittsfield eighth-graders were part of a group of about 80 who were among the first to test out the new adventure park called Ramblewild. The park is expected to open later this month, but a few school groups from around the region got a sneak peak during field trips this week.
"You’re doing great you guys," social studies teacher Jim Bronson yelled up from the forest floor. "Just remember to trust your equipment and trust yourselves."
Ramblewild is owned by Feronia Forests, a company named after the Roman goddess associated with wildlife, fertility, abundance and health, which aims to promote sustainable forestry and timberland development.
CEO Tim Gallagher, a graduate of Wahconah Regional High School in nearby Dalton, said the field trips were supported by the Feronia Forest Fund, a nonprofit branch established to offset costs for schools with students who’d normally not be able to travel to or pay for admission to Ramblewild.
Reid teacher Kristin Leonard said Ramblewild’s offer to host the eighth-grade school groups was a perfect end-of-the-year follow-up to the team-building and leadership skills the school has been working to instill in students.
"This is a great opportunity for the kids to personally challenge themselves to transition into high school," Leonard said. "It’s also nice to bring these students into nature, which is something not all of them would do otherwise."
Bronson, who previously worked with Gallagher at Hillcrest Educational Centers Inc., said Reid is partnering with Ramblewild to help incentivize students to do better in school. He and several other staff members and students are part of a Positive Climate Committee which develops ideas and initiatives.
"A lot of kids need a carrot to dangle in front of them" when it comes to maintaining regular class attendance, positive behavior and good grades, Bronson said.
In addition to things like quarterly pizza parties, small prizes and gift cards, activities and extra recess time, homerooms can now compete to earn a free field trip to Ramblewild for exceptional efforts in school.
Gallagher has a master of education degree in counseling psychology and was Hillcrest’s director of adventure-based learning and therapies, and hopes to expand activities and staff training at Ramblewild to better connect kids with skills and nature.
"There’s no electricity here, so it’s a place where kids and families can come and disconnect from their digital lifestyles," Gallagher said.
Ramblewild’s general manager, Mike Duffy, said that doing three to five elements on any given obstacle course can easily occupy three hours among the canopies.
Osorio said he found the course to be "very interesting and really fun.
"I was scared at first but I think anyone who goes here would want to try it," he said.
Jade Phair, a student in Reid’s media and television program, helped film Monday’s field trip and said she was impressed by her classmates’ efforts.
"There were some people I thought would be scared out of it, but I saw them really pushing themselves," she said. "I think it’s a really good thing."
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