University of Delaware
Office of Public Relations
The Messenger
Vol. 5, No. 4/1996
Delaware Adventure Consultants Bringing the wilderness experience to
city slickers

     George Watson, Delaware '84, regularly encourages people to
jump off a 30-foot-high platform. And they do! They are, of
course, secured by a rope and pulley to two people on the ground
below who are "belaying," or helping them to make the descent
     Jumping off "lunatic's leap," as Watson terms the platform,
is the culmination of many activities that groups undertake as
part of a challenge course program offered by Watson's company,
Delaware Adventure Consultants.
     Participants in a challenge course usually begin on the "low
ropes," where they work on team cooperation and trust building
through such activities as the couple's walk, in which two people
walk along opposing cables strung in a "v" formation among three
trees, while leaning on each other for support.
     Once the low activities have been mastered, group members
move on to the "high ropes," which might include a balance beam
or a rope bridge. Challenge courses are used by schools, youth-at-
risk programs, corporations and other groups as a way to build
self-esteem and encourage group cooperation.
     "This type of program is the future of education," Watson
asserts. "Challenge courses offer an opportunity to try new
behaviors in a safe, supportive environment. It's a way of
breaking down barriers and assumptions, your own and others. Most
people get out on a challenge course and do far beyond what they
felt capable of."
     In addition to offering challenge course programs, Delaware
Adventure Consultants constructs and inspects courses. (Challenge
courses were once called ropes courses, Watson explains, but the
name was inaccurate since most of the course components are cable
and wood, not rope.) Watson's company also trains course
personnel and offers instruction in rock climbing and rappelling.
     The company, which Watson formed 18 months ago, is the only
one of its type in Delaware and the surrounding region.
     Watson calls upon a pool of seven individuals who work
regularly for his company. Among them are Diane Seaman, Delaware
'85, and Mike Miller, a senior at the University majoring in
recreation and park administration. Watson looks for employees
who have wilderness experience, he says, "because someone with a
wilderness background will be able to function in stressful
situations in a changing environment. I can teach anyone to
belay, but it's much harder to teach someone how to cope with
     Watson brings to his young company a breadth of wilderness
experience. He has led wilderness expeditions for various
juvenile groups, including programs for juvenile felons, juvenile
alcoholics and drug addicts. He has taught fellow members of the
Army National Guard to ski, snowshoe, climb rocks and rappell out
of helicopters.
     His assignments with youth groups, Outward Bound and other
wilderness programs have taken him to remote areas of Florida,
Minnesota, Oregon and Maine, as well as Ontario, Canada. He spent
several weeks at the Canadian Outward Bound Wilderness School
north of Thunder Bay, Ontario, the program's most remote site in
North America and reachable only by traveling 70 kilometers of
dirt road. Here, wintertime conditions are so extreme that
pressure ridges similar to those found in the Arctic form on the
large lakes.
     Most people would find such extreme weather conditions
unbearable, but Watson says he is most in his element in the
wilds. "I've been in areas where it's clear no one has been for
50 years. It's an incredible feeling," he says.
     Watson has a way of describing his adventures that make them
appealing even to those who prefer sedentary, climate-controlled
activities. The best day of his life, he says, was on an Outward
Bound dogsledding trip in the Boundary Waters area of Minnesota.
     "It was 40 degrees below zero, but we were toasty warm in a
large tent. We were leading a fantastic, high-powered group on
this trip, and the food was good. We always have great food on
winter trips- eggs, bacon-because the dog sleds pull the
supplies. Someone stepped outside, and called the rest of us out.
     "There were the Northern Lights, dancing brightly in the
sky. We were all standing around, steam coming off of our bodies,
because we'd just emerged in our thin nylon suits from the 70
degree tent into the cold, black air. Off in the distance, a wolf
pack started howling, another responded, and then, our own dog
pack joined in. In the summer, the Boundary Waters is a magical
place. In the winter, it's mystical."
     Watson clearly misses these types of experiences, which he
is unlikely to duplicate in populated Delaware. So, why did he
return? "I saw how adventure programs were integrated
successfully into public school programs in other parts of the
country, and I wanted to bring that same type of program to
Delaware," he says.
     Watson, an ardent proponent of experiential education,
hasn't found acceptance in the schools, but he has been reaching
youths through church and camp groups, community centers, the Boy
Scouts and youth-at-risk treatment programs.
     "You can explain to kids how to use a compass, and maybe
they'll learn it and maybe they won't. But, if you bring them out
into the wilderness, and, suddenly you're lost, so you pull out a
compass. Then, you've got a group of kids surrounding you who are
eager to learn how to use a compass, and they'll remember it,"
Watson explains.
     Such programs have proven especially beneficial to troubled
youths, who often come to the challenge course with many
emotional problems. "The course is a huge self-esteem builder,"
says Seaman. "I tell the kids, 'If you can jump off a platform
high in a tree, you can get an A on a spelling test.'"
     Adults, too, benefit from participating in challenge
courses, so Watson targets corporate groups interested in
improving performance and creating a more hospitable workplace.
"I see people coming home from work frustrated and stressed out,"
Watson says. "In order for people to be happy at work, where most
of us spend a third of our lives, the workplace has to change. We
all need support at home, at work and in the community."
     "George is a true believer in experiential education for
kids and corporate groups," Seaman says. "I think it's admirable
that he wanted to bring this type of experience to Delaware, to
make it available to 'city slickers.' Challenge courses can get
people out of the rut of the business setting so they can build
relationships based on cooperation and respect, which makes them
function more effectively in a business setting."
     Watson also builds courses. In the past year, Watson has
built four complete courses and done additions and repairs to
many other courses in the mid-Atlantic states, including the
challenge course at the University of Delaware, where he added a
45-foot rappelling tower with a climbing wall.
     Watson says he's thinking about getting a partner, so he can
focus on the aspects of the job he enjoys most-building challenge
courses and running the programs.
     Building a new business while educating others about the
benefits of adventure programs has been a challenge, he says, but
it's clearly one that this wilderness enthusiast relishes.
                         -Theresa Gawlas Medoff, Delaware '94M