Raise the Bar with Bar-T

Marcus Pearson

There was tension in the air as the harness was slowly raised higher and higher off the side of a cliff face, quite literally. About twenty or so mentees and fellow ambassadors were combining their efforts to pull two of their friends about forty feet in the air using a combination of metal tethers and one (perhaps terrifyingly) well weathered rope. After a few suspenseful seconds of silence, punctuated only with quick prayers to various deities, the voice of fourteen year veteran Bar-T Tim Harkins cut through the incessant bird calls and rustling of leaves.






“Mountainside!”, he bellowed out, letting go of their tethers and letting gravity have it’s way with them as they fell free.


Moments like these are common at Bar-T Mountainside, a local summer camp and rope course in Urbana. The friendly guides seem to almost take pride in how well oiled their routines are, and how terrifying they can be to newcomers. Some, like Tim Harkins, fail to hide almost knowing smiles at how quickly these experiences go from harrowing to fun in an instant, and have almost boiled the enjoyment down to a science.


Prior to the trip, most of the other students in the Ambassador Program, Ms. Judy McGraw, Ms. Sue Carmen, and Ms. Elizabeth Mulcahy’s answer to new and confused students, as well as those who simply need an older role model, had no idea the great time they were about to have hiking, climbing, and galavanting along the 100+ acre facility.


The fun isn’t exclusive to the students either, even someone as tenured as Tim enjoys every minute of his day there: “I’ll put it this way for you, working here is one of the best jobs you could ever have. There’s no sitting inside all day, and you have tons of fun.”


Fun certainly seemed to be the word of the day, and though the experience was speckled with sentiments of team building, and teamwork (this was a bonding experience after all), it never felt preachy, and even the most jaded cynic would be able to glean an ulterior meaning from the convivial activities.


Talking with some of the other participants, Ambassador Sarah Kieft, a senior, expanded more on how the day helped her bond with her mentee: “Carson and I had a great time, and I really think we connected better as Ambassador and mentee.”


After witnessing the same bright smiles on the bus at the end of the day as when they were flying through the air, the newfound camaraderie and kinsmanship seemed to be mutual.