Imagine a 45-acre mature hardwood forest in Mooresville.
Such a place exists.
It’s the Iredell County Outdoor Education Center on Bluefield Road, a facility of Iredell County Parks and Recreation. People who go there can explore their potential and learn the value of working with others.
“This is the only woodland park with this type of team-building center in the county,” said Mike Hotze, the 34-year-old outdoor education program director, as he walked along a mulched trail.
All kinds of groups from Scouts to schools to corporations and local businesses use the facility. Of course, the center’s a big draw for Iredell County residents, but people from neighboring counties have discovered this rustic spot near Interstate 77.
“With our corporate sessions, we’ve had people from all over the East Coast,” Hotze said.
Along with camping facilities, trails and a climbing and rappelling tower, there are low and high ropes challenge courses.
Local Scouts enjoy the convenience of a quick get-away.
“The nicest thing about this place is it feels like you’re kind of close to the city, but you’re far enough away that you’re out of it,” Hotze said.
In addition to taking part in team-building activities, Scouts have built benches and Adirondack shelters in the park.
Situated along a creek, each shelter contains four cots. Hotze described the buildings as just places to sleep. But the area has power, running water, a picnic shelter and a fire pit. A bath house is a short walk away.
Earlier in the summer, Hotze opened the center for a family campout in conjunction with National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Campout.
Instead of camping in backyards, five families spent the night in Adirondack shelters. After eating hamburgers and hot dogs, kids gathered around the fire pit, made s’mores and participated in a nature program.
“Some families had just got into camping. We had a few that had never camped before. They could try it out without being on their own or in a tent,” Hotze said.
The event was custom designed for the group. Most programs are.
As Hotze headed toward the tree course, one of two high ropes courses, he pointed to a stack of canoes. Stumpy Creek Boat Landing is nearby.
Farther down the trail is the newer pole course with four aerial bridges. Participants have options. Some climb a ladder, reach a platform and climb back down. Others hook into zip lines.
A left turn leads to a low ropes course, another area where people break down barriers and work as a team.
“We believe in the philosophy, challenge by choice, so people challenge themselves within their comfort level. No one is told you have to do something. Challenges may vary, but we do want people to push themselves a little bit,” said Hotze who works with a staff of 20 to 25 part-time professionals.
Some are local firefighters and teachers. Others are retired from teaching or corporate jobs.
“We make sure you have fun and learn something in the process. For team-building, we have some great staff who know how to do that really well. One person’s been doing this for 20 years,” Hotze said.
Half-day, full-day and two-day programs are available. Some families schedule birthday parties, so children can learn team building skills as they face the challenges of a rope course or the rock climbing tower.
“Only one group is scheduled at a time, so it’s like your own little oasis,” Hotze said.
Youngsters 5 years to 11 years learn about wildlife and plants in their environment through Nature Explorer programs. These are held once a month, August through October and are open to the public.
“It’s nice to get kids out here looking at stuff. ... It’s a chance to slow down, look at the top of an acorn, a leaf that’s been chewed or just look for some sign of life,” Hotze said.
Sandra Phillips is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to go?
The Iredell County Outdoor Education Center is at 204 Bluefield Road. For information about programs and reservations, call Mike Hotze at 704-832-2326. Information is available at www.co.iredell.nc.us.
▪ Fees are based on group type, program length and content. Contact Mike Hotze.
▪ The cost per night to camp is $30 per group for up to 15 campers.
▪ The cost to participate in Nature Explorer Programs is $5 per person.