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Ropes and Challenge Course

Milton C. Potter School Forest signagePotter's Forest is our primary site and home to our high ropes course. The course is located on 50.55 acres of land south of Milwaukee, in Hales Corners Wisconsin, and has been designated as a school without walls by the Milwaukee School Board. The site serves thousands of students and staff members each year.

Ropes and Challenge Course

The rope course is run by volunteer staff members who are released from their usual duties by principals and program supervisors to facilitate each outing. Designated volunteers are expected to work three days each semester, but many serve more often. Currently, this program is supported through budget buy backs, grants and some creativity.

The course provides a unique opportunity for our children and staff to get out of the classroom and work on group and individual goals in pastoral outdoor setting.

While only a few miles from our city center, it seems miles away from the dense urban setting our children live in each day. The links below will provide a view of our course and the wooded area it is set in. The high elements are setup and taken down for each use to prevent unauthorized use. Safety is a primary concern for this program and we rigidly follow procedures designed to insure the safety of all participants.

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  General Program Information


The activities are an exciting extension of the MPS curriculum. The course is constructed outdoor at ground level and in trees using ropes, cables, and wood. The activities which will take place at the course are made up of a series of individual and group physical challenges which require a combination of individual and teamwork skills. The activities progress from mild (warm-ups, game, trust and problem-solving activities) to moderate (low and high ropes elements) challenges which are designed to reinforce personal confidence, safe risk-taking, and general trust of others. By working together on these activities and challenges, group members practice and build leadership and communication skills.

"Challenge by Choice " is a philosophy used at the course. This means that students are not required to do any activity they do not feel they are ready to do. Participation in each activity is at all times up to the participants choice, with MPS Ropes and Challenges Course Staff constantly monitoring each activity. There is a role for every participant. We have found that students and staff enjoy participating and are good judges of their own abilities.

Volunteer Staffing

Ropes and Challenges Course staff is made up of MPS employees such as teachers, psychologists, social workers, counselors, assistants and paraprofessionals, who are released from their other duties to donate time to the course. These employees have been trained to instruct and assist students at the course with emphasis on making this a safe experience for every child.

As part of a curriculum unit at each school, students and their teachers receive information about the course, the philosophy and curriculum, as well as participating in a series of lead up activities which serve to prepare students before coming to the course site. These activities serve to reinforce needed team building and safety awareness skills.

Safety First

Although safety is a primary concern at the Ropes and Challenges Course site, it is important to inform parents that due to the physical activities, some of which are physically challenging, there is a risk that your child may be injured. Many of the activities take place on the ground, followed by low challenges taking place at height of one to four feet, with a few high challenges ranging for 20 to 30 feet in height. Both low and high challenges require climbing and or balancing, with the use of specialized equipment for the high level activities. The equipment used is state of the art and all participants are instructed in safety procedures for each activity and challenge with positive reinforcement continuously provided. All MPS employees and students are asked to use a Full Value Contract. This is an agreement, written or unwritten, by all group members, signifying that they fully understand the safety and spotting rules as given by their group leader before course activities begin. All group members are encouraged to speak up whenever they feel another member of the group is not following the rules.

MPS will supply all necessary equipment at the course these include a first aid kit and phone.

If you have any questions or would like to receive additional information about our program please contact Denise Sather at 414 475-8438 or email at,

  Program History

The Ropes and Challenges Program began in 1995, but this land has been used for many years prior. This historical sketch written by Forest Johnson (retired MPS employee) will provide the reader with a sense of this lands history and importance.

Potter's Forest has recently been rediscover by many Milwaukee Public Schools staff and students as they participate in the new Ropes and Challenges Course at the site. Located on the north end of the the locally famous Whitnall Park and Boerner Botanical Gardens, Potter's Forest has quietly existed for many years as a school forest. First developed for the study of conservation education, Potter's  Forest programs evolved an environmental education focus in later years. Students from Milwaukee Public Schools were planting trees and studying nature at Potter's Forest long before other nature centers and programs were developed in the area.

Acquisition of the Land

Many question how MPS acquired this natural jewel of old growth forest and open grassland. As early as 1943 individuals from local conservation groups and the Milwaukee Public Schools were attempting to acquire property for a school forest in order to develop a conservation education program. Wilhelmine La Dudde of the Women's Conservation League of America and Walter Nichols, Assistant Superintendent of MPS, led the search for and acquisition of the land for the new school forest.

The 50 acres of land that was to become Potter's Forest was acquired in 1947 and dedicated on June 5, 1949 for Milton C. Potter, former MPS Superintendent and promoter of the project. The early years saw a great deal of student activity with planting hardwood and conifer trees and other conservation work to restore the land to a more natural condition. Ken Beers and Roy Swenson were two MPS naturalists who led many of the early nature and conservation activities at the forest. Students continued to visit Potter's Forest for more than forty years for nature and environmental education field trips.

Ropes and Challenge Education Program

In 1994 a collaborative effort involving MPS staff from the Departments of Curriculum and Instruction, Special Education and Supportive Services, School to Work, Community Recreation, Facilities and Maintenance, and Insurance and Risk Management, was organized to develop a new Ropes and Challenge Education Program for MPS students and staff. After a tour of the site, the selection committee immediately chose Potter's Forest as the prime location for the Ropes and Challenge Course. In the spring of 1995, the first elements of the course were installed and staff began training. Program implementation with students began in the fall of 1995. An environmental awareness segment was included as part of the initial programming effort.

Farmland and Forestry

The present use of the land now called Potter's Forest follows an interesting and colorful past. Photographs of the early years at Potter's Forest show students planting trees on barren, flat farm land adjacent to Forest Home avenue. This area and the area just east of the present cabin were farmed beginning in the mid-1800's. Jacob Wagner built a brick farmhouse in 1869 which is now a barbershop at 9855 West Forest Home Avenue. Wally Jablonski, the present owner and barber, remembers finding many old farm implements on his property. Adam Roder was the last farmer on the land in the 1930's and early 1940's. The farm was subdivided and in 1947 MPS purchased 35.98 acres from Alma and Emma Toelle and 14.57 acres from Elizabeth Schwab to create he 50.55 acre Potter's Forest.

The mature hard wood forest which occupies 35 acres is undoubtedly the most striking feature of the property. The tall old growth provided the ambience and insulation that is the personality of Potter's forest. An arborist from the Milwaukee Department of Forestry stated that it was the best stand of hardwoods he had seen in an urban area. Many have thought that the hardwoods at Potter's Forest were part of a virgin forest that once occupied this part of the state. Discussions with Wes Eisenhauer former Gardener at Boerner Botanical Gardens and Milwaukee County Parks Supervisor, dispels this belief. Apparently, Potawatomi people in the area prior to the 1830's  started fires on a regular basis to keep the area open for wildlife. Most large stands of trees in Milwaukee County date back only to about the late 1830's. Older individual or small groups of trees are possible, but the trees at Potter's Forest probably date back to the 1830-50 era - still making them at least 150 years old.

Our Responsibility

Potter's Forest is a living laboratory of man's tremendous effect on the environment. From open grassland during Potawatomi management, barren farmland with wood lot during the agricultural period, and the present mature, mesic forest with open grassland. The land can only reflect the management of the occupiers. The Ropes and Challenge Education Program stresses environmental awareness and is committed to keeping Potter's Forest a natural jewel in a urban setting.

Forrest E. Johnson edited source materials provided by Ruth Johnson of the Hales Corners Historical Society and those individuals mentioned above.


(414) 416-0293

10005 W. Forest Home Avenue
Hales Corners, WI 53130

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