From Bonner Springs to Branson, from California to Connecticut, zip lines and treetop adventure courses have caught on big-time across the United States and Europe.
But no such recreational amenity has been proposed for Kansas City — until now. Plans are underway with Maryland-based Go Ape to open a treetop activities and obstacle course next year in the southeast forest part of Swope Park.
“They just seem to provide a recreational opportunity that we don’t really have in the metro at all. It seemed like there would be a lot of interest,” said Forest Decker, the superintendent of parks for the Kansas City Parks and Recreation Department.
“I think it’s a great addition,” said Scott Capstack, a board member of Urban Trail Co. and co-trail manager of the volunteer-built mountain-bike trails that wind their way throughout the southeast acreage of Swope Park.
Part of the treetops course may extend over the park’s trails, but it should only enhance the trail experience, Capstack said.
“It’s a very cool feature, getting people out and experiencing nature,” he said.
Go Ape will spend the upfront money to design and build the course, with a possible opening in April 2016. It will be built in the forest canopy to the east of the Kansas City Police Department’s mounted patrol facility.
The company will share a small part of its revenues with the parks department.
Go Ape’s basic course across the country involves five stations with eight obstacles in each, such as rope bridges, tunnels and Tarzan swings. There are varying levels of difficulty and the courses are open to people ages 10 and older. The stations, which can be as much as 50 feet above ground, are connected by zip lines. The entire course can take several hours to complete.
“For me, I love standing on a platform and taking a look around,” said Go Ape co-owner Jenny D’Agostino. “It gives you a unique vantage point of your park, and you’re also getting a great physical workout.”
The company has built a dozen similar courses since 2002, primarily in Eastern cities, but opened one in July 2013 in Creve Coeur Park in St. Louis County.
“I went on the course on opening day, and I had a blast,” said Tom Ott, a deputy director of St. Louis County parks.
Ott said the adventure course draws people from as far as two hours away, who then visit other St. Louis destinations.
The Creve Coeur attraction had 12,454 visitors in 2014, its first full year of operation, and shared $16,878 in revenue with St. Louis County parks.
Decker said Go Ape’s initial projections for Swope Park are higher, with $800,000 in estimated revenue, of which the city would get 4 percent, or $32,000.
Decker said the parks department had had inquiries for a few years from people wondering why Kansas City didn’t offer an adventure course. He visited smaller courses in Branson with his family and really enjoyed them. The department finally issued a national request for proposals, and Go Ape was the only company to submit a concept that met the department’s needs.
Decker said Swope Park is the best location for such an attraction because it has sufficient mature trees, the right kind of trees and right mix of terrain.
The precise location won’t be known until the course is designed after the trees lose their leaves late this year, but Decker said it generally will be to the east of Camp Lake of the Woods and the mounted patrol facility and centered over Hope Lodge, which is no longer used.
Access would be from Oakwood Road, although the parks department will have to provide a new gravel parking lot, which will serve both the adventure course and bike trail users.
The course will be open to just about anyone who can climb a rope ladder, D’Agostino said. It serves everyone from individuals and couples to bachelor parties, school groups, veterans, families and companies doing team building exercises.
The courses generally are open on weekends and select weekdays from March through May and from September to December and every day from June to August.
Decker said Go Ape has an excellent safety record. Participants get a half-hour safety/training session and then are equipped with helmets, harnesses, safety cables and other equipment for the self-guided experience.
It’s not cheap. Prices range from $35 to $57. But D’Agostino and Ott said the company offers many discounted and free tickets and reaches out to underserved youth, working with nonprofit groups such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
Go Ape also works with environmental stewardship groups on initiatives such as cleaning up parks and removing non-native invasive plants, D’Agostino said.
While this will be a new type of amenity for Kansas City, it shouldn’t be confused with the classic zip lines such as those in Jamaica and Cancun, said Monica Reid, the general manager of Adventure Zip KC, west of Bonner Springs. That zip-line company opened in fall 2013 and has served more than 10,000 visitors so far this year, Reid said.
Reid said she was familiar with Go Ape’s attractions, but people should realize there is a distinction. She said Go Ape’s course has smaller zip lines while the Bonner Springs attraction has a two-hour guided hiking and obstacle tour with nine zip lines that extend up to 2,000 feet and at speeds up to 50 mph.