CMU partners with Mount Pleasant on Youth Outdoor Exploration Program


Instructors Caroline Hardy, 19, right, and Sarah Burgoyne, 19, left, spot youth participants as they climb a rock wall Wednesday Feb. 2 at Adventure Seminars in Finch Fieldhouse.

Mount Pleasant’s Parks and Recreation Department is teaming with Central Michigan University’s Recreation, Parks and Leisure Services (RPL) department for a five week rock climbing course for the city's youth. 

The Youth Outdoor Exploration Program is held on Mondays and Wednesdays from Jan. 26 to Feb. 23 in Finch Fieldhouse’s Adventure Seminars. Children 6 to 9 years old attend on Mondays while children 10 to 13 years old attend on Wednesdays.

The program was offered at the end of last year and sold out overnight. This semester the program has three sections that are nearly full with 45 children enrolled. 

“There’s a need out there. We can see that just by the sheer numbers of registrations,” Jordan Bruursema, RPL instructor, said.

Steve Hofer, the coordinator of the Youth Outdoor Exploration Program, believes the program gives a unique experience for the community that it could not give without CMU's collaboration. 

“CMU has some great things that we personally can’t offer with our facilities,” Hofer said. “Our community loved it. They love having the opportunity to do something that’s different and that you can’t find everywhere.” 

Ryan Longoria, recreation and sports director of Mount Pleasant said that leadership, self-esteem, confidence, security and trust are some of the things that the program will teach participants.

“Regardless of your skill level, there are so many other things that you can gain out of that experience that don’t have anything to do with rock climbing,” Longoria said. 

Participants will also learn about knot tying, harnesses, safety and physical and mental strength.

Danielle and Matt Hoppe, parents of two participants, believe that their children are gaining a greater amount of strength, flexibility and trust through this program. 

Another parent, Maggie Polley, said she likes how the program "correlates to life," since the children are learning to think ahead in ways such as their feet placement while rock climbing. 

Bruursema believes the CMU students who are facilitating the program are gaining a lot of positive experience out of the program as well.

“(The program is helping students) become involved in the local area to allow them to use the skills and techniques that they’re learning in classes and implement them to a real-world scenario with the youth of Mount Pleasant,” Bruursema said.

For Caroline Hardy, RPL student and a program coordinator and facilitator, this is exactly the case. 

"I've really been able to get hands-on experience with creating programming and facilitating it to children within the community," Hardy said. "It feels really rewarding to be able to create something I'm passionate about while also giving children a chance to experience something so fun."

Originally starting a version of the program in 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed plans down. 

“We were hoping at this point to be much further than we are, but that offered us an opportunity to really kind of think about where we were at with the program," Longoria said. “I think it caused us to reflect, and really put the focus on that outdoor portion of it.”

There are plans to continue the program in the future. Starting this spring, Hofer said participants will be doing activities that correlate with the seasons. 

The activities may include learning to read the land, learning how to judge tracks and snowshoeing. Depending on the community's feedback, rock climbing will "likely be incorporated in all future programming to some extent," Longoria said. 

“You see different things happening in nature depending on spring ... and fall when everything’s going away and obviously winter,” Hofer said. “We have a lot of opportunities and a lot of potential for the community.”

Both groups are excited about the collaboration and hope to continue this partnership in the future. 

“There are not many outdoor recreation-based opportunities where kids can go and experience and learn in a program setting,” Bruursema said. “It’s just a great partnership that I think we want to continue to utilize to help our students and to help the city of Mount Pleasant and the community as a whole.”

Cooper Gould, 10, climbs a rock wall Wednesday, Feb. 2 at Adventure Seminars in Finch Fieldhouse.