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Announcing ‘The Grandfather Challenge’ Hiking Program For At-Risk Youth!

Jason Matthew Nipper loved the outdoors. 

James & Cheryl Nipper, the parents of Jason Matthew Nipper, are pleased to announce the establishment of a unique and challenging hiking program taking place at Grandfather Mountain for at-risk youth, with a focus on those individuals who suffer from mental disorders and/or drug addiction.

Jason was a happy, outgoing, and gifted child with a keen sense of humor and engaging personality. He loved music, Nintendo 64, yo-yo’s, reading, and all aspects of nature. His favorite times growing up were those spent with his family at their cabin near Plumtree.

Life changed for Jason when he reached his mid-teens. He started developing symptoms of mental illness and soon found life more challenging. Despite many struggles, he still succeeded in earning an International Baccalaureate (IB) degree in high school, and was awarded a full, four year scholarship to his favorite school, the University of Florida. Jason lived in Gainesville, Florida off and on for three years and tried his best to be a “normal” student pursing a degree, but was eventually forced to withdraw from the University due to the continuing progression of his mental illness and severe anxiety.

Jason continued to struggle with everyday life, and tried valiantly to cope with his mental illness. Through it all, he found that the days which he spent mountain hiking brought him the greatest peace and satisfaction.

Like so many others with severe mental illness, Jason self-medicated with substances, which ultimately only complicated his mental condition. Jason passed away at age 26 on June 24, 2014. He is greatly missed both by his family and everyone that ever knew him.

Creation of Foundation and Mission Statement:

More than anything else, Jason wanted his life to have “meaning.” His parents James & Cheryl Nipper wish to fulfill that desire and honor their son’s memory by forming a non-profit corporation called The Jason Project, Inc., which has qualified as a tax-exempt Charitable Foundation under IRS Regulations.

unnamed-4They hope that Jason’s intense love of nature and hiking, coupled with his desire to help others, will live on through the young persons who participate in this program. Their greatest desire is that at-risk youth participants, including those youth who are suffering from mental illness and/or drug addiction, will, through this program, learn meaningful life-lessons, and find it easier to overcome some of life’s challenging hurdles.

Because of Jason’s abiding love of the outdoors and mountain hiking, one of the Foundation’s goals is to organize outward-bound type, intercept wilderness excursions and similar programs which are designed to build self-confidence in struggling youth, as well as trust and a positive rapport with adult mentors.   As part of their “outreach” efforts, they have established a special program called “The Grandfather Challenge,” through which at-risk youth will, through a series of hikes, navigate the majority of the hiking trails at Grandfather Mountain, NC.

One of these hikes takes you to the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountain chain, and affords incredible views along the crest of Grandfather Mountain.   As these hikes take place, adult hike leaders strive to teach these young people to respect this very pristine and special nature preserve, and to recognize and appreciate God’s beauty and creation. Each hike is led by two or more qualified and experienced adult hikers, and each child is mentored, encouraged, and supported by caring adult leaders who try to instill self-confidence, trust, respect, and a strong commitment to complete a rigorous, challenging physical goal. A special Certificate, hiking boots, and other recognition will be given to each young person that completes this program.

Jason’s parents fervently believe that this type of program or activity can not only provide enjoyment to those who participate, but can also build confidence and trust in others, similar to the ideals pursued in various “outward bound” programs, and will thus allow them to fulfill their goals expressed in their Mission Statement:

To provide healthy and rigorous outdoor excursions and challenges where at-risk youth can be encouraged and inspired to rise above their adversities and excel mentally, spiritually, and in life.

Community Support and Alliances:

Although they expect to receive referrals for at-risk youth candidates to complete this Challenge from multiple sources (including our local NC court system, The Western Youth Network, Watauga, Avery, and Mitchell County High Schools, and other sources and agencies), the program’s first priority was to form an alliance with the Juvenile Court system in Unicoi, Tenn, and Recover Appalachia, a drug prevention, intervention, and counseling program. Working closely with the Unicoi County Circuit Court, Juvenile Division, Recover Appalachia has now become the program’s first partner to work with The Jason Project in implementing The Grandfather Challenge.

Also, the Grandfather Mountain State Park of North Carolina has issued a Special Use Permit to this program, and the Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation has supported the project and issued a special pass for discounted entrance fees to the Grandfather Mountain, NC attractions. Jason’s parents are deeply appreciative of the community support they have received for this exciting program !

Contact Information and Referrals to Program:

The Jason Project, Inc. is a tax-exempt, IRS 501 (c) (3) non-profit foundation organized to provide challenging outward bound type activities and excursions for at-risk youth, including those youth who are suffering from mental illness and/or drug addiction.

For further information or if you are an experienced and qualified hiker who may wish to be a part of this program as a compensated adult hike leader, or to submit a youth candidate for participation, please contact James Nipper via email at james@jamesnipper.com or call (828) 765-6561 or (904) 354-7378. If you wish to donate to this project please visit GoFundMe.com/TheJasonProject.

Hike Regimen Highlights:

The hiking trails at Grandfather Mountain State Park offer some of the most rigorous and challenging hiking trails in the Southeast, and include areas rated as either moderate or strenuous. Some areas feature ropes and ladders, and provide some of the most phenomenal views existing in the High Country. “The Grandfather Challenge” will feature four major hikes, culminating in the following “Grandaddy” hike along the crest of the mountain to MacRae and Calloway Peaks, then down the east side to the Blue Ridge Parkway:

From the parking lot on top of Grandfather, hike the Grandfather Trail up to MacRae Peak via ladders and ropes; climb The Chute and visit Attic Window, Indian House Cave, and Alpine Meadow; hike through Calloway Gap, and on to Calloway Peak, the highest point of the Blue Ridge Mountain chain; then descend down the East side via the Daniel Boone Trail to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is the most challenging hike of the program, and will require a full day of hiking and climbing.

View of MacRae Peak / looking south from Calloway Peak
Top of last ladder at MacRae Peak


View to the West, from Calloway Peak


Organizational meeting with Unicoi County Court officials


Ladders to MacRae Peak