When was the last time you dangled 60 feet in the air, slept in a tipi, or tried to kiss a trout? For most of us, it was a long time ago, or never, and we would prefer to keep it that way. But, the team at Orenda Spring’s Experiential Learning Center believes that those can be some of the most valuable experiences for developing our courage, self-image, and creativity.
The outdoor learning center invites individuals, classrooms of children or teens, families, friends, and co-working staff to take advantage of its ropes courses, horseback riding, camping, biking, skiing, yoga, art, and orienteering. The Center is committed to being open and accessible for people of all abilities and ages, having served 25,000 people in the community so far. Visitors can choose from a number of activities based on their comfort level. Each activity pushes them to work as a team and cultivate new skills to master each challenge.
“We’ve been trying to get people outdoors to form a connection with nature, get exercise and interact with others,” said John Powers (JP), co-founder and chief executive officer at Orenda Springs. “Working through each challenge with one another helps individuals build confidence in their own abilities. That is a vital factor in reaching their full potential.”
Orenda Springs has been serving the Central New York community since 2006, when the ambitious passion project of two youth educators, John (JP) and Olga Powers, came to fruition. The pair bought the 140 acres of rugged forest in Marcellus that is now Orenda Springs with the hope of creating a “classroom in the woods” where people could learn about nature and themselves.
Countless labor-intensive days later, the land was transformed into what JP describes as an “outdoor paradise”. The property now features a tipi, a yurt, multiple lofty ropes courses, a barn complete with chickens and horses, a natural spring full of colorful freshwater fish, and miles of groomed hiking trails.
Maintaining the vast plot of land presented the pair with various challenges over the years. Most recently, Olga was grooming the horse arena by dragging around a log with nails tacked into it, and JP was using a tractor without brakes to move snow and manure. We were happy to lighten this load with a $31,000 grant to Orenda Springs to purchase a new tractor.
The addition of the tractor has allowed the organization to offer year-round programming for the first time.
“The new tractor has been so helpful with snow removal around our land which allowed us to implement winter programming at the Center,” said JP. ”Using the tractor we created a cross-country ski path for visitors to glide around the property and we hope to add more winter activities soon.”
During the winter months, there can be a lack of extracurricular activities for adults and children to engage in outside of school or work. The team at Orenda Springs emphasized the critical role of year-round experiential learning and adventure-based counseling for producing a healthy Central New York community.
“Many people have never had the chance to be outside by a pond or forest in the summer and outdoor opportunities become even slimmer during the winter,” said Allison Ray, program director of Orenda Springs. “The fact that we can provide people with a place where they can explore and expand their horizons all year round, is really a game-changer.”