A new ropes course opened in McLaren Park Saturday. (Courtesy of SF Recreation and Park Department and Outward Bound California)

A new ropes course opened in McLaren Park Saturday. (Courtesy of SF Recreation and Park Department and Outward Bound California)

New ropes course in McLaren Park offers aerial challenges

Ten residents took to the treetops Saturday at John McLaren Park in San Francisco, clambering through a new ropes course that includes bravery tests like the “incomplete bridge” and a “centipede ladder.”

Located in the Wilde Overlook area of the park, on the city’s southeastern edge, the course is the product of a partnership between the city’s recreation and park department and Outward Bound California. There are ground-level team challenges and loftier features like logs and bridges slung between poles several feet off the ground.

Harnesses safely secure participants during the challenges and the goal — besides getting past that first glimpse of the ground below — is to provide a mix of leadership training, character development and recreation. Especially for schools and nonprofits serving students from low-income communities, city officials said.

“Taking risks, fostering trust and overcoming fear in a supportive environment can be life-changing,” said San Francisco Recreation and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg. “San Franciscans in every neighborhood deserve equal access to empowering outdoor experiences. For a young person, a ropes course can be the first step to becoming a lifelong steward of nature.”

The elements of the new course that are low to the ground provide an opportunity to build confidence and trust, according to an Outward Bound video describing the features. Higher elements are where it gets real. The “centipede ladder” is comprised by three dangling sections with footholds and handholds, to be climbed while swaying in the wind. An “incomplete bridge” challenges climbers with fortitude to cross a span of increasingly wide-spaced planks attached to steel cables slung between poles.

In addition, elements of the course have been made accessible to students with disabilities, according to city officials.

On Saturday, the course, led by trained Outward Bound educators, was open for the first of four free community days in November — this weekend and next. Registration for all four days is already filled, officials said.

Starting in January, one Saturday per month from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. will be reserved for free community days led by Outward Bound educators. On other days, the ropes course will be open to schools and nonprofit groups serving students from low-income communities, with a 75 percent scholarship for a day on the course, with students themselves attending free of charge.

To get on the waiting list for future free community programs or to bring a school group, Outward Bound can be contacted at https://www.outwardboundcalifornia.org/programs/challenge-course/

“With the opening of the Challenge Course, (Outward Bound) is uniquely positioned to be a beacon of hope and compassion in this needed moment as well as bringing transformational leadership training and safe, outdoor adventure right to students’ backyards,” said Nettie Pardue, executive director of Outward Bound California. “We are so honored and excited to serve students in southeastern San Francisco and beyond for decades to come.”

The course is the only ropes course on city property, with another one located on federal land in the Fort Miley Military Reservation in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Construction on the course at McLaren Park began in July, with no cost to the city. All the logs, ladders, ropes and other elements are tucked into a storage area when not in use.

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