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FAQ Prior to the Program

What is a Challenge Course?

The MSCR Elements Challenge Course consists of structures that allow for a range of activities to take place. These activities can be a few feet off the ground or up to 40 feet off the ground, and while some opportunities are very physical in nature, some are based more in problem solving and trust. We also use mobile equipment including props, ropes and mobile structures giving us hundreds of options to choose from when working with your group.

These options allow us to design programs based on group needs and provide an opportunity for groups to challenge themselves in ways that are best suited to them.

What kinds of programs do you offer?

We offer half day and full day opportunities at our Challenge Course or Mobile Programs at your site.

Half day programs typically last 3-4 hours and give participants the opportunity to work together to meet specific goals. The focus is on the group development process; activities get progressively more challenging throughout the day. We work with you to tailor these programs to your desired outcome. We frame experiences based on skills that participants can use back at work, school, or home environment.

Full day programs last 6-7 hours and participants take the skills and group awareness they gain in the morning to new heights. After being properly outfitted and trained to help with safety procedures, groups have the opportunity to climb, swing, jump and zip up to 30 feet off the ground. Full day programs offer an opportunity for groups to engage in positive risk taking while challenging members in a safe, supportive environment. Everyone has a role in the process, so if some are more comfortable staying on the ground they still fully participate with the group.

Mobile programs offer an opportunity for indoor programming and can be hosted at a site of your choosing. We can accommodate anything from 30 minutes of ice breakers to full day sessions. We bring the equipment and props to your site and all we need is open space. If you don’t have available spaces we can help arrange accommodations for your group at an indoor site or a park in the Madison area.

What level of physical fitness is needed?

We customize every experience to fit the needs of each group and can accommodate people of all abilities and skills. We can design the experience to be highly physically or sitting the entire day. You tell us what you need. Either way, our goal is to make sure all participants are comfortable and safe throughout the day.  

Do you operate in the winter?

We do offer programs in the winter, weather permitting. Typically, to maintain safe operating procedures of our course, we do remove equipment from the High Challenge Course during the winter months, around early November. However, we are happy to program on our low course and still run mobile programs. As soon as weather allows, we put equipment back up, typically around early April.

Who are the facilitators?

Elements staff are trained in group development and awareness, group processing, and technical safety procedures for the challenge courses. They come from a variety of different backgrounds ranging from professional rock climbing, teaching, youth work, leadership development, and organizational development. Our goal is to serve your group with the most appropriate staff possible; therefore we match our staff and their skills to your group.

Where are you located?

Our Welcome Center is located at 5025 Sadbury Way in Madison. The course is located down a trail next to the Welcome Center, behind Kennedy Elementary School on the east side of Madison, adjacent to Kennedy Park.

How do I book a program, and how far in advance should I book?

Contact the MSCR Experiential Programs Specialist, Emily Peffer, eapeffer@madison.k12.wi.us or 608-204-4580. We work with you to determine the best program for your group then get you on our calendar. 

We suggest being in touch with us at least a month prior to your program, so that we have time to coordinate logistics and get your group on the calendar. Our calendar does fill up quickly, so the earlier the better.

How much do programs cost?

Pricing is dependent on the type of program and number of participants. For a quote based on a program please contact the MSCR Experiential Programs Specialist, Emily Peffer, eapeffer@madison.k12.wi.us or 608-204-4580

FAQ The Day of the Program

What should I wear?

Plan to dress comfortably and for the weather. Our programs take place outside; therefore there is the potential for weather to change and for clothes to become dirty. Layers are always suggested, so you have clothing options as the program continues. We do require that all participants wear closed toed shoes with a heel. We have a limited space in the Welcome Center available as an indoor programming area if need be, but that space has no air conditioning or heat. It does, however, have a water fill up and flush toilets.

Please do not wear long earrings or jewelry, sandals, flip flops, or shoes with toes separated, shirts with offensive language or graphics, or clothing that is uncomfortable to move in.

What should I bring with me to the program?

We suggest that participants bring with them a water bottle, sunglasses or hat, and snacks/lunch as needed. You are also welcome to bring along a portable camp chair as well. Every participant needs a completed Health and Liability Waiver in order to participate or observe programming. At the course we provide sunscreen and bug spray, and on sunny hot days a tent shelter area. Participants have access to running water and flush toilets in the Welcome Center.

What happens in adverse weather? 

Our calendar for the outdoor course fills very quickly, therefore we make every attempt to maintain the program schedule. If threatening weather arises during your program, we may move to the Welcome Center. We immediately seek shelter in the case of thunder, lightning, torrential rain or other immediately hazardous weather.

If MSCR cancels your program due to hazardous weather, we work with you to re-schedule.

What if I don’t want to climb or I am nervous about an activity?

Our programs and staff maintain a Choice Philosophy that believes individuals perform to their highest level when they are empowered to make choices for themselves. We offer varying choices with each activity that allow for a range of participation and encourage everyone to make good choices for themselves throughout the day. We do not pressure any one to do anything that makes them uncomfortable. We do ask that participants remain engaged with their groups and participate at a comfortable level for themselves.

What is the space like at the Challenge Course? 

The Challenge Course is next to Kennedy Park on the east side of Madison, WI. The park offers large open spaces for activities and a Welcome Center is available for indoor space, although the space is very limited. The Welcome Center has flush toilets and a drinking fountain with a water fill-up option, but has no heat or air conditioning.

Our low course is set in a shaded grove of pine trees, however, our high course is not shaded and can be quite hot in the summer, and windy in the spring and fall. We have activities that are universally accessible. Please let us know in advance if anyone in your group needs additional accommodations.       

Madison School & Community Recreation (MSCR) is the public recreation provider for the residents of Madison (within the boundaries of the Madison Metropolitan School District). MSCR is a department of the Madison Metropolitan School District and is proud to have served the community for 91 years as the one for fun in Madison! We have a wide range of recreation programs and services for all ages that are offered year-round. 

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FAQ Prior to the Program


Where do paddling programs take place?

Our introduction to paddling courses, including both canoe and kayaks, typically take place at the Tenney Park Lagoon. This offers easy access from all over town and provides an ideal place to learn more about equipment, a few paddling strokes, and getting comfortable in a boat.

Paddling trips take place all over including local opportunities in town and longer trips out of town. Information about trips can be found on the MSCR website and in the MSCR Program Guide.


What typically happens during the Introduction Class?

Once everyone arrives we begin with an introduction to the equipment, including specific information and terminology associated with paddling. Afterwards you’re taught how to properly select a PFD and paddle that suits you. You’ll do some practice ‘air’ strokes on land then it’s time to hit the water. Once everyone is on the water instructors have a few activities to get you comfortable with paddling and keeping the boat balanced. Depending on time and how comfortable the group is we can take boats a short distance to the Tenney Park Locks to get the feel for a small current.


What kinds of trips do you offer?

We offer a range of different trip opportunities based on participant skill level, from beginner to full day paddling options. Beginner trips last around 2.5 hours, intermediate trips last around 3 hours, and full day trips may have you in a boat up to 5 hours. Be sure to read all information regarding trips, including meeting locations and travel details.


What if I’m not sure which trip is right for me?

If you’ve never paddled before we recommend you take an introduction class before a trip, we offer at least 2 at the beginning of every summer and fall. Beginner trips are perfect if you’ve only been in a boat once or twice. Intermediate trips we expect participants are comfortable with equipment and know basic paddling strokes. For full day trips we expect participants are comfortable paddling and have the stamina to paddle for a longer period of time. Breaks are given as needed, however it’s not always possible to get out of the boat and stretch, so be mindful of that for day trips.

If you have questions about any trips in particular and whether they are right for you, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with MSCR.   


What kind of boat will I be in?

MSCR has a fleet of both kayaks and canoes. Our canoes are durable metal Grumman canoes and the kayaks are Kestral recreational boats with a large cockpit and stable base. We do have one tandem kayak as well, in case participants need extra accommodation or help paddling. If you have a specific request for a boat you may include that information when registering and we will do our best to accommodate. There may also be opportunity during trips to switch boats, i.e. from a canoe to kayak or vice versa. Please be prepared to be flexible and share equipment.


Can I bring my own boat, paddle or PFD?

Sure! Please let us know if you plan to bring your own equipment when you register.


How does shuttling for trips work?

Prior to any trip the lead instructor will contact you at least 48 hours prior to the program. Depending on which trip you’re signed up for will depend on the meeting location and logistics associated with that specific trip. The shuttle is necessary when we have a separate put in and take out point, i.e. paddling downstream, and it’s necessary to leave a few cars at the take out to transport people back to their individual vehicles at the put in. There are also trips where participants can carpool together if traveling further distances. Be prepared to work with instructors to make the trip run smoothly, including working through logistics of carpooling and shuttling. This may require allowing other participants to ride in your vehicle or offering gas money for those who volunteer as drivers.


Are there age, weight or height restrictions?

For classes and trips we ask that participants are 16 years or older. There are no weight or height restrictions.


What if I have a group of people who want to go paddling, can we have our own trip?  

If you have a group of 8 or more people who would be interested in an introductory course or a trip can provide equipment and instruction. Currently trips are limited to those we offer in the program guide and we do not offer overnight trips, only day trips.

If you have a group that would be interested in their own paddling session or trip please contact the MSCR Recreation Specialist for Experiential Programs, Emily Peffer at eapeffer@madison.k12.wi.us or 608-204-4580.


Can I rent just a boat, paddle and PFD?

MSCR does not operate as an outfitter, therefore we cannot rent or loan out equipment. However if you’re interested in a class or program we can find ways to accommodate you.

Who are the instructors?

Paddling instructors are trained in American Canoe Association approved trainings for both canoes and kayaks and CPR. They come from a variety of different backgrounds ranging from professional rock climbing guides, school teachers, youth workers, etc. All instructors represent years of paddling experience in Madison and Wisconsin.  


How do I sign up?

The introductory courses and trips are all listed in the Summer and Fall program guide each year. You can register online here: https://online.activenetwork.com/MSCR/Start/start.asp or contact the Program Assistant for Paddling Programs, Lori Helker at lhelker@madison.k12.wi.us or 608-204-3025.



How much do trips cost?  

Prices for programs in the guide range from $15 to $40 per person. Pricing for group outings is based on participant numbers and the specific trip. To get a price quote for a group program please contact the MSCR Experiential Programs Specialist, Emily Peffer, eapeffer@madison.k12.wi.us or 608-204-4580


FAQ The Day of the Program


What should I wear?

Plan to dress comfortably and for the weather in clothing that is okay to get wet and/or dirty. We advise you to avoid cotton unless paddling on a hot, summer day. You are required to have on shoes or sandals with a heel and toe, no flip flops or sandals without a heel strap. We also recommend having an extra, dry change of clothing to leave in your vehicle or at the take out site. Please remember that MSCR is not responsible for lost or damaged personal property on trips, so plan accordingly.


What should I bring with me to the program?

Our programs happen completely outdoors, so please be aware that anything you bring will be outside. We suggest that participants bring with them a full water bottle, sunglasses or hat, sunscreen, bug spray, and snacks/lunch as needed. Please remember that anything you’d like to keep with you for the trip will be in the boat and should be stored accordingly, i.e. connected to the boat by rope or carabiner.

Please remember that MSCR is not responsible for lost or damaged personal property on trips, so plan accordingly.


What happens in adverse weather? 

Our calendar for the outdoor course fills very quickly, therefore we make every attempt to maintain the program schedule. If threatening weather arises during your program instructors are mindful of the closest opportunity to get off the water. We immediately seek shelter in the case of thunder, lightning, torrential rain, or other immediately hazardous weather. If MSCR cancels a program due to weather we give as much notice as is reasonably possible and will either issue a refund or attempt to re-schedule the program.


What if something happens and I can’t attend the program?

If you have registered for a program and find you cannot attend we ask for you to let us know as soon as possible, to allow for participants on the waitlist an opportunity to take your spot. If you find that due to unforeseen circumstances you cannot attend a program the day of, staff will try to reach out to you to confirm your absence. If you are a no-show for a program and do not communicate with us we cannot issue a refund for your spot in the program. Cancellations can be discussed with Lori Helker,lhelker@madison.k12.wi.us or 608-204-3025










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