Sheriff ropes in students

20th anniversary of challenging course celebrated. 


A helmet-wearing boy gripped tightly on the ropes as he pulled himself up the pole. The students below him stared as the boy made his ascent. 

On May 11, Dukes County Sheriff’s Office celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Ropes Challenge Course. Vineyard Montessori School students, Tisbury School students, and staff from Martha’s Vineyard Community Services were the first to participate in the program in its 20th year. 

The Ropes Challenge Course is located on the first right turn at the entrance of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Business Park. The course was established in 2001 as a part of the Sheriff’s Office’s community outreach efforts, and funded by a collaboration of local and state governments alongside the Drug Abuse Resistance Program (DARE). The Oak Bluffs Police Department was also a co-writer of the funding grant with the Sheriff’s Office. “It was created through the Governor’s Alliance Against Drugs money. At the time it was right in the middle of the war on drugs, and development grants were being supported in the state,” said Sheriff Robert Ogden, who previously ran the ropes course program. “This was one of the DARE grant projects, and this was actually the last money that went out of the Governor’s Alliance Against Drugs before it was dissolved.” 

The goal of the ropes course is to help the Island’s youth develop life skills, such as conflict resolution, communication skills, problem solving, and healthy response to stressful situations during social interaction with peers and adults. These connect to the Law Enforcement Against Drugs (LEAD) lessons the Sheriff’s Office teaches to sixth and eighth grade students during the school year. The course also tries developing young community leaders and socialization, but this is currently done with social distancing measures in place, due to COVID. Activities such as games and team-building exercises are used. 

Similar to the teamwork activities run through the course, its development was possible through the collaboration of various groups. “It’s symbolic of when government entities actually work together for the common good,” said Ogden about the course. “The development of the ropes course required the county, local, and state governments to come together and support a youth service program project.”

The Sheriff’s Office came together with Dukes County government and the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission to acquire the property for the course. Project Adventure trained the volunteers from Tisbury School and Tisbury Police Department to be Challenge Course facilitators, alongside the Sheriff’s Office’s instructors. The National Guard flew in from Cape Cod and prepared the lot for original construction. “So it was a pretty amazing project that took a lot of people collaborating and supporting each other. This really speaks to community on Martha’s Vineyard,” Ogden said.

The Ropes Challenge Course’s goal remains the same: Provide a place for young students to develop in a safe manner and stay out of trouble. It’s a program that students of the island look forward to yearly, particularly acting as a bridge program for eighth graders transitioning into high school. “If you build self-worth and self-esteem in a child, they are more likely

to think for themselves when it comes to drug and alcohol use. That’s really the goal; to have kids thinking about the consequences of their actions and give them the tools to feel confident about making healthy choices,” Ogden said. 

The Ropes Challenge Course is now being run by Major Sterling Bishop of the Sheriff’s Office. “I’m kind of like the grandfather of the program,” said Ogden.

The Ropes Challenge Course is free to Dukes County youth. It is also available to schools, teachers, coaches, and certain nonprofits for during-school and afterschool visits during the school year.