Program offers camping to participants of Fort Miley challenge course

Seven young men and women stand next to an older man and listen to him as he speaks under a grove of trees.

Pacific Leadership Institute Chief of Programs Drew McAdams (in blue hat) leads a camaraderie-building exercise at the Fort Miley Adventure Challenge Course.

Pacific Leadership Institute, National Park Service to partner at San Francisco site

Imagine waking up next to the Pacific Ocean, with views for miles down the California coast. Now imagine that you’re at a campsite in a national park, high up on a bluff over one of the most scenic cities in the world.

That unique experience is about to become a reality, thanks to a partnership between San Francisco State University’s Pacific Leadership Institute and the National Park Service. The idea is to establish a campground next to the Fort Miley Adventure Challenge Course at Lands End in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Groups participating in the course can then hike up a hill afterward, pitch their tents, make dinner and watch the sun slowly dip below the ocean horizon.

“Groups have been coming out for team building and leadership exercises, which is why they choose us and come back to us,” said Drew McAdams, the chief of programs for the institute, which manages the challenge course. “But this overnight is going to add so much more depth to what we do. It’ll bring in an environmental stewardship piece and all these other elements that I think will really take us to the next level.”

The challenge course was created in 1979 by a group of adventure enthusiasts and teachers, including an SF State faculty member. As demand grew, the course became affiliated with SF State’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism in 1998 and was established as the centerpiece of the institute. The course hosted its first group from the San Francisco Unified School District’s “Get Out and Learn” program about 10 years ago, McAdams said.

The course starts with balancing, jumping and climbing exercises that are usually just a few feet off the ground. That helps build camaraderie, and from there participants move on to ladder climbs, balance walks and the course's best-known challenge, the 200-foot zip line, a flight through Fort Miley's lush foliage that starts 45 feet in the air.

The course serves a broad cross-section of the Bay Area community with a focus on diverse urban youth, McAdams said. About 15 percent of the course's clients visit for private parties or corporate team-building activities. That helps subsidize visits by youth groups, other nonprofits and SF State student groups and classes.

The overnight program will allow for more comprehensive leadership training, as well as more time for outdoor education opportunities, according to the National Park Service. Once it’s up and running, the program will aim to serve more than 500 youths a year.

The campground’s epic view includes Ocean Beach and stretches south to Golden Gate Park and the Sunset District to Pacifica and Pedro Point. A thick grove of trees, where the challenge course is laid out, is just to the west and downhill from the campground.

Rosy Woodruff, a ropes course team leader at PLI and a 2011 graduate of SF State, said tents and other overnight equipment will only be set up from just before sunset to about an hour after sunrise. The idea is to take away as little as possible from other park users who want to enjoy the area during the day, she said.

The two-year pilot program will cost between $35 and $50 per participant and is set to begin on Nov. 8, when a group of 24 students and two teachers are scheduled to arrive. Only groups that have participated in the challenge course will be able to use the campground, which can accommodate up to 30 campers. It will be the only camping opportunity in Lands End and only the second campsite in San Francisco — the other one is at Rob Hill, near Baker Beach in the Presidio.

“This whole idea is to make this the first step for all these urban users into these outdoor arenas, and to have it be fun and meaningful,” McAdams said. “We have a nice partnership and a really cool, rugged piece of land here that we’re being allowed to use. I think we can do a lot with it.”