North Carolina

South (Destination)

October 2015

North Carolina engages groups with outdoor fun

by Beth Bartlett

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    Charlotte

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    Richard Petty Driving Experience, Charlotte

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    U.S. National Whitewater Center, Charlotte

From paddleboards and parachute jumps to paintball and pirate adventures, it’s safe to say that North Carolina has it all for adventure-seekers. Planners can choose the level of excitement, from a gentle garden walk to rafting down whitewater rapids or zooming around a NASCAR track.

Triangle
“A common phrase we hear in Raleigh is ‘Wow, it’s so green here,’” says Ryan Smith, director of communications for the Greater Raleigh CVB. “Many people don’t realize that even though we are the state capital and a metropolitan area that we still have a lot of trees, parks and lakes.”

There are more than 10,000 acres of parkland in the Raleigh area, and plenty of opportunities for groups to play, from stand-up paddleboarding on Lake Wheeler to biking the six-mile Art to Heart greenway into downtown. Planners can even combine recreation with a meeting at Bass Lake Park, which offers a conference room and deck overlooking the 54-acre, catfish-stocked lake, and supplies free fishing poles with boat rentals.

“One of the newest options for groups is the Go Ape Treetop Adventure Course at Blue Jay County Park,” Smith says. “It’s a perfect opportunity for teambuilding.”

The experience includes much more than the expected canopy tour, with several rope ladders, ziplines, Tarzan swings and more.

For something more down-to-earth, groups can try the latest puzzle-solving activity sweeping the nation: an escape room. At Cipher Escape, participants have 60 minutes to figure the way out of a mind-bending, themed escape room. Another teambuilding activity popular with planners is the team treasure hunt, which takes place in downtown Raleigh on Segways.

As the home to Duke University, Durham offers a tremendous variety of educational group activities and venues, including the Duke Gardens, one of the top-rated public gardens in the country. The 55-acre botanical wonder is free to the public, and features five miles of walkways.

“It’s truly jaw-dropping,” says Sam Poley, director of public relations and communications for the Durham CVB. “If you’ve never been to a big garden before, the Duke Gardens are worth it.”

Sections of the gardens are separated by habitat and style, including Japanese bridges, ponds and gazebos. The gardens also boast a large amphitheater so groups can gather before or after their tour.

Another prime choice for groups, The Museum of Life + Science, is excellent for freeing the inner child in every attendee.

“The Museum of Life + Science is a state-of-the-art facility with interactive exhibits and live-animal exhibits inside,” Poley says. “Once you move out to the campus, there are big play spaces for kids that adults can use, too, a large working steam locomotive, a dinosaur trail with life-size replicas and a digging pit where you can dig for fossils. Coming to this place lets you be a kid again.”

The 84-acre museum campus also features one of the largest butterfly houses in the Southeast, with more than 1,000 butterflies. Groups can hold events in the butterfly house, the museum or one of three meeting rooms, and the facility can handle up to 1,500 attendees for events.

Chapel Hill and surrounding Orange County also feature exciting activities for groups. Attendees can face off in teams at Predator Paintball, or take to the air for the Challenge Course located at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. Planners can select a low ropes course, high ropes course or tree course for outdoor fun and trust-building exercises. Afterward, groups can wind down with a video game tournament at The Baxter Bar and Arcade, a pop culture hub featuring vintage pinball and video game machines from the 1970s to the 1990s.

If a group prefers gourmet taste over the treetops, check out Southern Season in Chapel Hill. The region’s largest foodie attraction offers cooking classes as a teambuilding exercise, and the results are delicious.

Triad
With more than 2,500 acres of lakes, Greensboro is the perfect place to go outside and play. Kayaking and canoeing are prime choices for group activities, and both Northeast Park and Hagan-Stone Park offer event or meeting space. A new attraction at the Greensboro Science Center also gets attendees moving. SkyWild is an aerial adventure park in the trees above the Animal Discovery Zoo. Groups head up to the rope courses and participate in various exercises, including replicating the way animals behave and move.

“Participants complete physical fitness activities and get a bird’s-eye view of the zoo,” says Amy Scott, director of marketing for the Greensboro CVB. “There are 78 physical feats based on animal adaptations, and a variety of short ziplines. It should take approximately two hours to complete a route and the adventure course can accommodate about 300 people per day.”

Winston-Salem also has its own share of unusual adventures, from Segway tours of the downtown area to mountain biking at Hanging Rock State Park and hiking up Pilot Mountain. But what really lures attendees is the experience awaiting them at a local vineyard.

“Llama trekking at Divine Llamas Vineyards is definitely a unique experience,” says Richard Geiger, president of Visit Winston-Salem. “In addition to tasting some exceptional wines, a cannot-miss experience is a light hike with llamas while learning about the vineyard’s history and enjoying the outdoors of the Yadkin Valley.”

When it comes to unusual teambuilding activities, the area has even more to offer, Geiger says.

“The Graylyn International Conference Center offers Graylyn Adventures, a variety of more than 25 group-friendly teambuilding experiences,” he adds.

The Tour de Graylyn lets teams assemble and race new bicycles, while Pirates of the Piedmont offers boat construction and racing on Graylyn Pond. Other options include geocaching and the traditional challenge course.

In nearby High Point, groups can hand-feed the butterflies at All-A-Flutter Butterfly Farm or take on the closed-course challenge at Kersey Valley Zip Line.

Charlotte
“When it comes to adventure, Charlotte has a lot of ways to explore,” says Laura White, director of communications for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

Groups can take an up-close peek at majestic birds of prey with a behind-the-scenes tour of the Carolina Raptor Center, where 900 birds are rehabilitated each year, or tackle the teambuilding challenges at the U.S. National Whitewater Center, which boasts the largest manmade, re-circulating river in the world. Activities include whitewater rafting on class III-IV rapids, ziplining and attempting challenge courses.

The Dana Rader Golf School is another top pick for attendees. Rated as one of Golf Magazine’s “Top 25 Golf Schools,” the facility offers a special, fun-to-play golf program suited for any age or experience level.

Groups can shift gears from the leisurely pace of golf to something with a bit more horsepower, too.

“Charlotte is home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, nearly 90 percent of NASCAR race teams and Charlotte Motor Speedway,” White says. “All offer adrenaline-pumping activities for groups. From getting behind the wheel of a race car and driving at speeds of more than 150mph to getting a behind-the-scenes view of a pit crew practice, Charlotte is full of activities for those with the need for speed.”

Fayetteville
Fayetteville’s proximity to Fort Bragg pays off for groups. Planners can coordinate with Fort Bragg for base visits, touring the parachute packing facility and Golden Knights museum, and even jumping from the practice Jump Tower. The Jump Tower experience is perfect for thrill-seeking attendees, but must be arranged beforehand with the base’s public affairs office and is dependent on current staff.

Another pick for attendees is the Fort Bragg Clay Target Center, which offers skeet shooting for groups as well as other activities.

There are also options for ziplining and water recreation as well.

“Local navigator Freddie Mims pilots tours of the Cape Fear River,” says John Meroski, president and CEO of the Fayetteville CVB. “Along the tours, he provides a history of the area and the significance of the Cape Fear River. Fayetteville city historian Bruce Daws can provide additional commentary and historical perspective.”

Meroski adds that groups can also visit the Wake Zone Cable Park at Smith Lake, a state-of-the-art water skiing system located at the Smith Lake Recreation Area and managed by Fort Bragg Welfare and Recreation.

“At the park, the water sport enthusiast is effortlessly pulled over smooth waters,” Meroski says. “Amateur and pro wakeboarders will enjoy an affordable day of fun.”

Asheville
Outdoor pursuits beckon in Asheville, located in the western, mountainous region of the state and home to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Groups can enjoy rafting, canoeing or tubing down the French Broad River with Zen Tubing or Asheville Adventure Rentals, or try their hands at Fly Fishing with a special program from Curtis Wright Outfitters. USA Raft offers whitewater and caving adventures that include trips on the French Broad or Nolichucky rivers, with rapids from class I-IV.

After a day of thrills, Wild Food Adventures offers a wild-edibles foraging tour, and planners can choose the option of a dinner prepared with the group’s wild harvest at a participating restaurant.

For teambuilding, the Asheville Treetops Adventure Park has multiple options for fun, with more than 60 challenge elements including swinging, rappelling, jumping and hiking, and can adjust a group program to any desired level of activity.

At night, Star Watch Night Vision Tours gives attendees a unique view of the sky with military-issue night vision equipment.

Coastal Carolina
The coastal shores of North Carolina feature more than 300 miles of barrier island beaches, along with two national seashores and plenty of places to find adventure.

“From the Cape Fear River to our beautiful shoreline, Wilmington and its island beaches are surrounded by water,” says Connie Nelson, communications and public relations director for the Wilmington and Beaches CVB. “Our unique geography with the river facing west, ocean facing east and the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway separating the mainland from the barrier islands affords a wide array of outdoor water adventures that include kayaking, canoeing, surfing, stand-up paddling, boating, kiteboarding and fishing from the pier, surf and boat. We also offer scuba diving charters.”

Groups can take lessons in surfing and stand-up paddling, or mix some kayaking with an educational salt marsh exploration program at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Along the Barrier Islands of the Outer Banks, planners can arrange tours of Ocracoke Island, where Blackbeard met his doom at the hands of the British in 1718, or tour lighthouses, including the Bodie Island Lighthouse near the edge of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Attendees can even climb the stairs at this 1872 landmark.

Follow the Cape Lookout National Seashore west and you’ve discovered the Crystal Coast, a string of beach cities and communities tailor-made for group fun. Planners can choose an eco-tour out of Morehead City for dolphin watching, snorkeling, fishing, exploring barrier islands and even watching wild horses. In Beaufort, explore the beauty of nature with an eco-trip through the Rachel Carson Reserve, which also offers kayak and paddleboard trips, or release that inner scaliwag aboard the Renegade, a pirate ship boasting sword fights, singing and plundering booty.


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