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High adventure on challenge course

3:14 pm July 19th, 2012

By Pat Jenkins

The Dispatch

The animals aren’t all that’s wild at Northwest Trek.

A zip line and challenge course well-suited for thrillseekers have been added to the wildlife park to give visitors a new kind of outdoor adventure nearly 60 feet above the ground.

Zip Wild, which opened last Saturday, has tree-to-tree zip lines that zoom riders 33 feet a second through tall stands of trees to a series of obstacle course-style challenges such as swinging, slatted-step bridges, a high wire and suspended cargo nets.

Metro Parks, which operates Northwest Trek, is hoping the new attraction will bring out more people to enjoy a wilderness experience that adds a twist to the free-roaming bison, elk, bighorn sheep and other wildlife, animal exhibits and nature trails that the park is known for.

Zip Wild is designed, built and operated by Deep Forest Challenge, the France-based creator of more than 60 aerial obstacle courses across Europe, including France, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Russia and Morocco.

People who pay the $39.95 fee to try the Northwest Trek course “will love how it’s built through the trees and the challenge and excitement it provides,” said Vincent Perier, the builder for Deep Forest Challenge. “There is nothing like it in the United States.”

Kris Sherman, a Metro Parks spokeswoman, reported that the first day reservations were being taken online for last Saturday’s official opening, 57 were made.

“We know there’s interest,” she said.

Zip Wild eventually will have four courses. The one that opened last weekend will be the second toughest of the four, according to Perier. The others will open as they’re completed and receive permits from the state, which regulates such attractions.

All the courses will vary in skill and intensity levels so that virtually anyone can have a go, regardless of age, physical ability and how comfortable they are with heights. The more intense the course, the faster the zip lines and the more hair-raising the elevations.

The course that’s open now is for anyone at least 10 years old and 4 feet 7 inches tall. There are relatively few restrictions other than weight (nobody heavier than 275 pounds can partake).

The faint of heart might have trouble with some of the challenge obstacles. Last Friday, as members of the news media and other guests were given a chance to try the course ahead of its opening, at least two had to be lowered by rope to the ground after encountering crossings – and their own fears – that they couldn’t conquer. Such rescues, as the staff called them, are handled by trained, highly professional course workers who watch from the ground and offer gentle reassurance that there’s no shame in quitting if the going gets too tough. “It’s not a race,” one staffer said. An 18-year-old female who was among the rescued guests said afterward that the zip lines were “really fun” but predicted some of the obstacle challenges won’t be for everyone.

Before anyone is allowed on the course, they’re given instructions by a course worker and must – for their own safety – demonstrate on a close-to-the-ground practice layout that they can safely use a zip line and follow safety rules that include always being attached by carabiners to cables high among the trees. They also must sign an injury waiver form.

After that, the course starts with a clamber up a 30-foot climbing wall to the first tree-mounted platform and the initial zip ride. The longest of the six zip lines is 425 feet, the equivalent of one and a half football fields, and all of them combined carry riders – hanging from a strap they attach themselves to the cable – a total of 2,093 feet at speeds of 22 miles an hour.

The platforms where zip rides and obstacles begin and end are as high as 55 feet, roughly half way up the towering Douglas firs. There are no railings or safety nets, which is why so much emphasis is on participants having their carabiners clipped to a cable at all times to prevent falling from the platforms or the course features. The latter include swinging bridges with spaced slats, thick-roped cargo nets slung between trees, and a fixed but zig-zagged plank bridge.

The level of physical exertion required by the course ranges to rigorous, so it’s not for pregnant women or people with bad backs or other serious medical issues, officials said.

The course is scheduled to be open through Dec. 31.

Northwest Trek’s challenge course takes daredevils through tall stands of fir trees via zip lines and across bridges of varying difficulty, such as zig-zagged timbers. (Northwest Trek/courtesy photo)

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