As I was whizzing along a cable 70 feet above the ground, strapped into a complicated harness, steering was initially one of the last things on my mind.
Yesterday, I was among a group of media and other interested folks who toured the Skywood Eco Adventure Park, just west of Brockville on the site of a former campground. Billed as the largest aerial and zip line park in Ontario and Quebec, the new park on the Thousand Islands Parkway opened to the general public today.
I signed up for the 2.5-hour zip line tour, a guided trip through the forest canopy along eight zip lines. It involves using a pulley and harness system to travel along cables between high-level platforms attached to trees. (The platforms are secured to the trees without fasteners, so they don’t hurt the trees in any way.)
Our group of six assembled first at ground level for an orientation by our guides, Nathan Leclair and Hannah Muysson. After getting fitted with harnesses and helmets, we learned the basics of attaching the huge clips called “smart belays” to sturdy cables throughout the course, so that we wouldn’t inadvertently tumble to the ground. We did “trust falls” on a line not far from the ground to become more confident in the strength of the harnesses.
We also learned how to steer while taking a short run on another low-level line. In a nutshell, you place your hands over the pulley, then put pressure to the left to spin yourself to the right, and vice versa. (Sounds easy in theory. It’s harder when you’re high above the trees, as we shall see.)
Once we’d all received our safety training, we were off to the treetops. And the “adventure” part of things began immediately, as we ascended to the platform for our first zipline along a series of intentionally wobbly wood-and-cable bridges.
Then we were off! Here’s a video of Brockville Recorder and Times reporter Ron Zajac travelling along one of the zip lines, with guidance from Nathan.
The first few zips were as exhilarating as I remembered from previous outings. At the edge of each platform, I leaned back in the harness, stepped off the edge and glided above the trees. Unlike some zip line courses, this one isn’t designed for high speeds, which was just fine with me. At the end of each line, I stepped onto a second platform and (rather ungracefully, I must admit) scrambled up with Hannah’s help.
However, after I’d done one or two zip lines, I inexplicably started to lose my grasp of the basics of steering and to spin about more than I should have. I’ve zip lined a few times before, and thus I was probably a bit overconfident. It didn’t help that I was carrying a big camera and a backpack (that’s usually forbidden, by the way, but the park made an exception for us media types), which made me even less aerodynamic than normal.
The problem is, it’s hard to appreciate the scenery when you’re rotating. It also makes landings a bit tricky. As Nathan pointed out, “Ankles don’t bend in every direction.”
A bit rattled, I intentionally slowed down (by lowering my feet) as I approached an arrival platform about halfway through the course. Unfortunately, I stopped completely a few feet short and had to get the rest of the way by pulling myself hand-over-hand along the cable. (On the bright side, I felt a bit like Indiana Jones.)
Fortunately, Nathan and Hannah took me in hand and kept coaching me on steering so that I could confidently conquer the seventh line: a 700-foot cable overlooking the scenic Jones Creek Marsh. And I managed it! I even took a few quick peeks at the view.
All in all, the zip line tour was an immensely enjoyable way to spend a few hours. How many opportunities do you get to soar above the trees like a bird—and to feel like Tarzan while you’re doing it?
By the way, I was by far the worst student in our group, so it’s quite unlikely you’ll have the steering problems I did. And, even if you do, the guides have the training to help you overcome them in style.
As well as the zip line tour, visitors to the park can also test themselves against five adventure courses: dangling routes through the trees that combine bridges, nets, swings and four short zip lines. There are two beginner courses, two intermediate ones and an advanced one. There are also two discovery courses and a discovery zip line, not far off the ground, designed for participants with physical or cognitive disabilities. Next month, the park plans to open Treewalk Village, a collection of treehouses, nets, ramps and slides for kids.
Prices vary, as do minimum heights and maximum weights for participants, so check the website for detailed information. As a guideline, my zip line tour was $45 for adults.
A few other things to note
- Leave your personal items locked in your car, as there’s nowhere to store them on site.
- You don’t need gloves, but you can bring them if you like. Snug-fitting cycling or gardening gloves would be ideal.
- Eat before or after your adventure, as no food is sold on site.
- Reservations are recommended.
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Disclosure: I attended the opening as a guest of Skywood Eco Adventure Park, which neither reviewed nor approved this post.