(UPDATED SUNDAY AFTERNOON with opponents launching Facebook page)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Ziplining from treetop to treetop is a hot ticket for vacationers in various spots around the U.S., and elsewhere in the world.
Now it might be coming to a forested public park near you.
WSB has learned that the Seattle Parks Department is talking with a private company called Go Ape about installing a “Treetop Adventure Course,” including ziplining and “Tarzan swings,” at West Seattle’s Lincoln Park.
According to a PowerPoint presentation circulated by the company and shown to us by a source, Go Ape would charge around $55 a person ($35 for youth, its website says) for a 2+-hour turn, with sessions launching up to 14 people every half-hour.
The proposal has yet to be announced publicly, but the Parks Department has been considering it since
at least March, according to e-mail chains last summer, according to documents also forwarded to us, and the first open public presentation is planned for a community-group meeting next month.
Here’s a map from the Go Ape PowerPoint showing where in Lincoln Park they want to build the facility:
In addition to ropes, wires, platforms, ladders, and other components in the trees, it would include a “cabin” for the operation, and also fences around “access points” to keep them secure during offhours.
Seattle Parks’ point person for partnerships, Charles Ng, is on vacation, so we obtained some information through spokesperson Karen O’Connor, who noted that the proposed location is near a developed section of the park, with a baseball field and horseshoe pit.
Go Ape started in the United Kingdom, where it has more than two dozen courses (mapped on their UK website). They expanded to the U.S. two years ago and have three installations right now – in Indianapolis, Williamsburg (Virginia), and Rockville (Maryland).
Its website describes what it offers as:
We take one lush, green forest and a healthy dose of breathtaking scenery; blend with a smattering of treetop high wires, tricky crossings (using ladders, walkways, bridges and tunnels made of wood, rope and super-strong wire) and wind-in-your-face zip lines; finished off with a mega dose of people in search of their inner Tarzan.
We then equip people with harnesses, pulleys and carabiners, give them a 30 minute safety briefing and training and let them loose into the forest canopy, free to fly on zip lines and swing through the trees.
The website also links to this promotional/explanatory video via YouTube:
A page on the company website geared toward prospective partners says the company will:
*Provide ALL capital investment for the program
*Design, build and operate the high ropes course in an environmentally sensitive manner
*Recruit, train and manage all staffing for the operation of the course
*Completely indemnify our park partners of ALL course responsibility
*Maintain an insurance policy that is 10X the industry standard
*Market and advertise the program to ensure financial success
*Provide you with an exciting new activity for your park and a new revenue stream
According to the Go Ape PowerPoint made for Seattle presentations, the “capital investment” here would be half a million dollars.
After learning about this last night, including some indication that Parks was moving toward some community outreachs, we checked with the presidents of the two nearest neighborhood councils.
Deb Barker of the Morgan Community Association said she first heard from Parks in March about trying to schedule a presentation, but couldn’t coordinate one before the July 18th meeting (7 pm, lower-level meeting room at The Kenney [WSB sponsor]). Bruce Butterfield of the Fauntleroy Community Association, which represents the area closest to the proposed facility, said FCA had not been contacted yet, but he’s planning to contact Parks.
According to Parks spokesperson O’Connor, a partnership proposal like this also would have to go before the Board of Parks Commissioners and ultimately to the City Council. She said the Partnerships division hoped to do that before year’s end, and also mentioned they hope to schedule a general community meeting about the Go Ape proposal this summer.
We asked whether an environmental review might be required, particularly given the park’s reputation for wildlife – especially winged wildlife like eagles, owls, and bats – and she wasn’t sure. Parks’ Partnership policy, however, does include:
3.2.8 – The proposed activity should not adversely impact Parks’ facilities or parkland, including wildlife habitat.
Caught in a budget crunch, Parks has been exploring more partnerships the past few years; another forested West Seattle park, Camp Long, opened a “ropes challenge course” last fall, in partnership with Washington State University 4-H. Go Ape’s PowerPoint promises that it will donate 900 tickets each year to “underserved local residents” and will facilitate an annual fundraiser for an unspecified local nonprofit.
8:41 PM UPDATE: We’ve received yet more documents related to the project. One of them reveals that this has been in the works since last August – and also includes the amount of revenue the city is supposed to get from this: $40,000 to $65,000 a year. Here’s the document that’s taken from (which includes many more details, including the “outreach strategy”); in case you can’t open the PDF, here is the cut-and-pasted text:
Treetop Adventure Course – Lincoln Park Project Summary
What – On August 12, 2011, Seattle Parks selected Go Ape as part of their Expression of Interest selection process for the development and operation of a treetop adventure course in its park system. In its proposal, GO Ape selected Lincoln Park as its preferred location for the new treetop adventure course. Go Ape will operate an eco-educational outdoor experience that will provide visitors with 2-3 hours of outdoor fun and exercise while navigating through the treetops. The course will include a variety obstacles, all blended within the forest across 6 to 9 acres at Lincoln Park.
For more information on the Go Ape Treetop Adventure Course and business, please view the following Introduction to Go Ape video: http://www.goape.com/new-course.
Who – Go Ape is owned and operated by Dan & Jenny D’Agostino and Chris Swallow. Go Ape is the world’s leader in the development and operation of environmentally sensitive aerial courses. Since 2002, Go Ape has developed 28 courses and over 2.5 million people have safely taken part in the experience. Go Ape currently operates a course at Rock Creek Regional Park in Rockville, Maryland, on land owned by the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC) and is expanding across the county.
When – Go Ape and Seattle Parks are currently developing their outreach strategy to local civic groups, elected officials, community stakeholders, and neighbors surrounding the park area. Once the outreach process is complete, Go Ape hopes to begin development in late Spring 2013, which will take approximately 4-6 weeks.
Where – The course will be located in the woods within Lincoln Park. The majority of course activities will take place 30-50 feet within the treetops. Go Ape does not require the exclusive use of the park land and no existing park activities will be disrupted during development or course operations.
How – Go Ape will self-finance all project developments, with no resource requirement from Seattle Parks. Go Ape estimates that over $40 to 65k per year will be provided to Seattle Parks as a result of the operation of the course.
Community Concerns – Seattle Parks will implement an extensive public involvement plan that includes contacting and notifying key stakeholders/ community groups and public meetings to gather feedback and comments about this project throughout this summer and early fall. Go Ape has also taken deliberate efforts to mitigate any community concerns with our development and operations. The following are the few concerns we initially hear from interested community members and the mitigation measures we have developed to resolve these concerns during the last 10 years of our operation.
Traffic¬ – Go Ape deliberately manages course usage to limit traffic and burden on the park infrastructure. Go Ape caps sessions to every half hour on weekends, hourly on weekdays – sessions are limited to 14 people to reduce traffic and burden on parking infrastructure. 88 percent of Go Ape visitors book in advance reducing walk-ups. The surrounding community should only expect an increase in 4 to 5 car arrivals per appointment time.
Environment – Go Ape hires an outside contractor to perform an environmental management plan that is approved by the Lincoln Park Manager to ensure proper management of the natural area. Go Ape inspects the trees on a routine basis and yearly by an independent arborist. Go Ape uses no heavy machinery during our builds nor requires the felling of any mature trees. Go Ape also works with the park to coordinate the removal of non-native invasive plants and organize park clean-ups.
Parking – Due to Go Ape’s managed use of the course, parking needs are minimal with only 25 parking spaces required.
Noise – The only noise produced at Go Ape are the sounds of families and friends enjoying the treetop adventure trail experience. Due to the large size of Lincoln Park, the trail will be oriented towards the back of the woods where customers will not be heard from existing park usage areas.
Summary of Benefits –
• An annual revenue share of 40 to 65k/ year to Seattle Parks
• Go Ape completely indemnifies Seattle Parks and the City of Seattle of all course responsibility
• Go Ape will actively manage the health of the trees and park land, with annual independent arborist review, organized park cleanups and non-native invasive plant removal
• Educational signage will be displayed on the course to inform visitors on the importance of conservation and local ecology
• A new outdoor adventure amenity for park visitors, with over 500 free tickets provided to Seattle programs, charitable organizations, low income and underserved youth
• Work with Seattle Schools to provide some level of free or low costs access to the course
• As a physical activity, Go Ape will promote health and wellness in the local Seattle community
• The course is accessible to 95% of the special needs community
• 12 new and well-rewarded jobs will be provided to local residents
• Work with Parks to partner and collaborate in potential sponsorship and support of other programs and services
We will be following up on all this, on a variety of fronts, tomorrow.
FRIDAY MORNING NOTE: Many have asked who to send feedback to about this – whatever you think about it, pro or con or otherwise. Though there is no formally announced public process so far, we did put together a list in the comment section of some of those accountable along the way – here’s a direct link to that, in case you miss it there.
SUNDAY AFTERNOON NOTE: Opponents have launched a Facebook page.