by Noor Al-Sibai – firstname.lastname@example.org – Staff Writer
Asheville, known for its outdoorsy aesthetic, welcomed a unique new adventure center last weekend.
The Asheville Treetops Adventure Park, billed as “a jungle gym in the trees” by a recent press release, opened Saturday.
The park, located next to the Asheville Zipline Canopy Adventures Park near the Crowne Plaza Hotel, boasts three levels of difficulty on their facility, ranging from 12 to 45 feet up in the trees.
Treetops is the first of its kind in North Carolina. It is part of a growing aerial trails trend in the outdoors lifestyle, with similar parks in Europe and eco-tourism capitals like Costa Rica and the Caribbean.
Bryan Kerby, the manager of the park, said the park’s design is specifically attuned to Asheville.
Kerby, 25, cited specific parts of the design of the park, such as Frisbee discs used to walk across a gap in the trees, a kayak used to swing from tree to tree and a suspended climbing wall on the hardest level as Asheville-oriented.
“The design was difficult,” said Kerby, originally from Elkhart, Ind., “but Jeff (Greiner, the owner) wanted it to appeal to an Asheville audience.”
More experienced climbers included design elements which were ultimately taken out because they were “impossible,” said Kerby, who has also worked as a zipline guide and a high and low ropes instructor at a summer camp.
Kerby said the Treetops park compliments, but is very different from, the Zipline center located about 2,000 feet away.
“This park is more independent than a zipline tour,” Kerby said. “It’s higher adventure, and while people will enjoy the zipline, the more courageous will also enjoy the Treetops course.”
The course features three levels of difficulty and four trails: the green trail, which is for beginners, and located about 12 to 15 feet off the ground; the yellow intermediate trail, which has two trails and includes most of the Asheville-based elements, including a Parkway Tunnel made out of rope; and the red advanced trail, which is 45 feet off the ground and includes a lot of climbing and more strenuous activity.
While Treetops is the only canopy adventure center in the region, it is just one of many adventure centers that also feature ziplines in North Carolina, such as the Navitat center in Barnardsville and The Beanstalk Journey center in Morganton.
Catherine Read, a UNC Asheville student and Morganton native, worked at The Beanstalk Journey in her hometown.
The Beanstalk Journey is more locally-oriented than Navitat, which has another center in California, The Beanstalk hired Read for her experience with her high school’s outdoors group.
“We had experience with climbing, dealing with ropes, the necessary safety associated with dangerous cliffs,” said the 19-year-old mathematics student. “We were still, however, required to complete a training program for the course.”
Read said her experience at Beanstalk, which also features climbing towers and canopy tours similar to that of Treetops, was very social, and could be very personal.
Read also visited and helped build new ziplines at the Maggie Valley Ghost Town in the Sky, which featured ziplines from Beanstalk, but, according to Read, was a very different experience.
“All ziplines have a danger factor,” Read said. “The difference between the companies is how they handle that danger and where they place the responsibility of safety.”
Safety, according to Treetops manager Kerby, was an important factor in the construction of the Treetops park. It’s impossible for guests to double-unclip, or loosen/unclip their carabiner, which holds them on the safety lines. Guests remain attached to safety belays, or safety systems featuring harnesses and rope attachments, until they are back on the ground. Additionally, guests are required to train with a park ranger before entering the trails.
Taylor Vaughan, a senior health and wellness promotion student and trip supervisor with UNCA Outdoor Programs, said although she had not heard about the new Treetops center, she is familiar with the local tree-climbing and zipline community.
Vaughan, originally from Kennebunk, Mass., said parks like Treetops appeal to the less experienced adventurer because of the safeties in place.
There is a gray area between tourists and lesser-experienced outdoorsy-types and the hardcore climbing community, according to Vaughan.
“The community can be intimidating,” said 21-year-old Vaughan. “They can also be kind of snobby.”
Vaughan said the influx of outdoor-adventure centers is both good and bad, because it appeals to a sense of adventure and a lot of people’s hobbies, but it is also a way for businesses to make money.
“It’s nice to see a semi-local group bring this sort of thing to town,” said Vaughan of the Treetops center, which is owned by the Wildwater company that operates within the Blue Ridge region. “I’d love to check it out.”