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Getting High In The Northwest ... On Zip Lines

EATONVILLE, Wash. - Apparently Northwesterners are not afraid of heights and have a yen for adventure. We draw that conclusion because the industry of zip line tours and aerial adventure parks is booming in the Northwest right now.

Some zip line courses -- like this one at Northwest Trek -- add aerial challenges between the various zip descents. Photo courtesy of Northwest Trek
Some zip line courses -- like this one at Northwest Trek -- add aerial challenges between the various zip descents. Photo courtesy of Northwest Trek

Within the past couple years, fully a dozen commercial zip line attractions have opened in Oregon, Washington and Idaho... not counting at least twelve more in British Columbia and Alaska. The revenue potential has some municipal parks departments looking to add spendy zip line attractions in public parks.

The region's newest zip line and aerial challenge course is at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park near Eatonville, Washington.

17-year-old Cory Evan and his younger sister started talking about a return visit as soon as they finished their first time through.

"I'm really scared of heights, like I don't do roller coasters because I'm scared of heights," he says. "But I was able to do this, which is really big for me. It was a lot of fun."

Tacoma, Washington's public park district owns Northwest Trek. Business manager Donna Powell pitched the zip line construction to the board of commissioners.

"We needed something that was going to set us apart from the other experiences around here. We also wanted to attract a different demographic."

Powell projected the zip line concession would boost attendance at the wildlife park by drawing in more teenagers, young adults, and people interested in more active pursuits.

"We could do a mountain beaver exhibit but I doubt that is going to increase our attendance by 5,000 people in a year."

But with the zip line course, Powell says park attendance and revenue has surged just as hoped.

Things haven't gone so well for some other aspiring zip line operators. A former Washougal, Washington entrepreneur spent five days in jail for operating a zip line course in the Columbia Gorge without first obtaining the proper permits. That man has since relocated his business to Maui.

This summer, intense community opposition derailed plans by a British company to string zip lines in a Seattle public park. Opponent Trileigh Tucker says the expensive attraction would've ruined a quiet retreat in the big city. The Seattle University professor says zip line expansion on public park land bears watching.

"In regard of commercial use of open public spaces, I think there is a precedent or a wider principal at play here: which is a sense of some kind of moral violation by privatization of public parks."

Tucker quickly adds that she does think zip line development "can be done right" given the right setting.

More development is definitely on the way. Businessman Erik Marter estimates the number of zip line attractions in the Northwest states will double over the next year.

"I think we're a little ways off a saturation point," Marter says. "I think it's going to be a while before we have so many of them out there."

Marter co-owns a Portland-based company named Synergo. It designs and builds commercial zip tours among other things.

"I don't think there is anyone pushing it," he says. "I think people are hearing about it. We don’t do any marketing on it. People are calling us; we're not calling out to set these up. A lot of people are interested. It doesn't cost that much to make them, comparatively speaking to an amusement park or even a Ferris wheel or something like that... and they're really fun."

And safe, according to Marter. He says he knows of no serious injuries on commercial zip tours in the Northwest.

Currently, Washington and Idaho inspect zip lines for safety. Oregon as yet, does not.

On the Web:

Zip lines in Washington:

Canopy Tours Northwest (opened summer 2011)

Camano Island, Wash.

Cost: $85 plus an “optional $5-$10” tip for your guide.

Description: Six double-cable zip lines, log bridge, and dramatic 54-foot final rappel. About an hour's drive north of Seattle at privately-owned Kristoferson Farm.

Zip San Juan (opened in Sept. 2010)

Friday Harbor, Wash.

Cost: $75, $65 for youth 14 and younger, plus “it is customary to tip your guide 10 percent.”

Description: Eight zip lines and a bridge between trees and over lakes and wetlands on 40 acres of forest on San Juan Island. 3 hour zip line course comprised of six main zip lines, plus two practice zip lines at the beginning. Like Canopy Tours NW, Zip San Juan’s course was built by Synergo.

Zip Wild at Northwest Trek

Eatonville, WA

Cost: $40 plus park admission ($8-$18).

Description: The publicly-owned wildlife park ultimately plans to open four zip lines courses of varying intensity levels. The courses combine zip lines with cargo net challenges, swinging bridges and other aerial obstacles.

City of Bellevue Parks and Recreation Dept. (in development)

Bellevue, WA

Description: Bellevue's parks department is collaborating with zip line course designer Synergo on an attraction to be built next year in Eastgate Park. The 24-acre park is already home to an existing ropes challenge course.

Oregon Zip Lines:

Out 'n' About Treesort LLC

Cave Junction, Oregon

Description: Treesort offers over a linear mile of zip lines. It says it provides "something for all experience levels, plus the giant Tarzan swing."

Rogue Valley Zip Line Adventure LLC

Gold Hill, Oregon

Description: 3+ hour guided tour available by reservation. Soar through 2700 feet of zip on this 5 zip line course.

Mt. Hood Adventure Park at Skibowl

Government Camp, OR

Description: A three-story tower is the departure point for a 500’ single zip line.

Northwest Trek Wildlife Park near Eatonville, Wash. recently added a zip line and aerial obstacle course. Photo by Tom Banse
Northwest Trek Wildlife Park near Eatonville, Wash. recently added a zip line and aerial obstacle course. Photo by Tom Banse

Camp Dakota (zip line new in 2012)

Scotts Mills, Oregon

Description: Family adventure park and campground with 3 zip Lines, high ropes challenge course, and paintball.

High Life Adventures

Warrenton, Oregon

Description: Tours consist of 8 lines and take roughly 2 - 2 1/2 hours to complete.

Tree to Tree Adventure Park

Gaston, Oregon

Two tours - one with six zip lines, including one that is 1280 feet, a bridge and a 40-foot rappel, plus a course with 12 zip lines among 48 tree top elements and obstacles.

Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum (in development)

McMinnville, Oregon

Description: Zip line course designed by Synergo of Portland is tentatively scheduled to start construction this winter.

Idaho Zip Lines:

Zip the Snake (opened in June 2012)

Twin Falls, Idaho

Cost: $60 per person.

Silver Streak Zipline Tours (opened in June 2012)

Wallace, Idaho

Cost: $65-$75

Description: The tour features multiple zips, ranging from 325 feet to 1,800 feet. The grand finale on each of the two separate courses offers dual racing zips.

Zip Idaho

Horseshoe Bend, Idaho

located north of Boise on Highway 55

Description: Zip tour uses 7 cables ranging from 200 feet to 1,700 feet in length.

Heise Zip

Ririe, Idaho 83443

Description: Seven zip lines totaling 5,000 ft. Beautiful mountain setting near Upper Snake River in eastern Idaho.

Tamarack Canopy Zipline Tours

Tamarack Resort, Donnelly, Idaho

Cost: $99-$119

Description: Eight zip lines totaling 4,425 ft.

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
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