Playgrounds in the Sky

Zip-lines at Greek Peak Adventure Center can be as long as a half mile. Photo by Kristian S. Reynolds

Bristol Mountain Aerial Adventure Park is more than just zip lines – way more. When the aerial park opened in May 2014, a “theme park in the air” was created, with seven courses and counting. The obstacle adventureland includes elements like rope and wobbly bridges, cargo nets, climbing features, rope ladders, rolling saddles and skateboards and, of course, zip lines.

“This is our second year of operation and we are excited to bring more smiles and thrills to these woods, building off of the great momentum from a successful first year,” says Steve Fuller, assistant director of marketing at Bristol Mountain. His toughest task has been to define exactly what the Aerial Adventure Park is, and explain the different obstacles available. “There’s really no easy way to describe it,” he says. “Zip lines are only one-tenth of what’s here.”

Rolling features, for example, add an element of surprise to the zip lines. Adventurers stand on a log or skateboard as they zip through the air, Fuller explains. You can see how describing that to someone – who hasn’t seen the wavy and wobbly bridges, tightrope walks or climbing ladders – can be hard to do.

Construction is underway for an additional two courses in the adventure park this summer – another blue square (intermediate) course and an additional kids course (ages 4-7).  “After a great first year we wanted to expand and improve upon the park to continually add new and exciting features for the whole family,” says Fuller. Not only will there be two new courses in the adventure park for guests this summer, but Bristol Mountain Aerial Adventures is also building a dedicated zip line canopy tour. “So many of our guests loved the park and really enjoyed the zip line portions, so we knew we had to add more,” explains Fuller. The zip line canopy tour is set to open mid-summer and will consist of a guided tour over spectacular terrain that involves nearly 5,000 feet of zip lining.

The basics and beyond
There are currently seven courses of varying difficulty to choose from, with classifications recognizable to skiers and hikers everywhere: one dedicated kids’ course for ages 4 to 7, two yellow circle courses (very easy), two green circle courses (easy), one blue square course (intermediate) and one black diamond course (advanced).

Tickets for the main courses are valid for three hours (kids’ course tickets are valid for one hour), and guests can spend their time wherever they’re comfortable.

“Some stay on the yellow courses for three hours, others are adamant about getting to the black course,” Fuller says. Guests are asked to start on the yellow course, before progressing to more difficult obstacles. “We want to make sure you don’t find yourself in a situation where you’re not comfortable,” he explains.

But don’t worry, each course takes an average of 20 to 40 minutes to complete, so three hours is plenty of time to make your way to that black course. And although the technical difficulty of the courses increases, the basic elements become more familiar with each one.

Brian Early is a designer for Tree-Mendous, the company Bristol Mountain hired to build the Aerial Adventure Park. When asked about some of the particularly challenging elements of the course, he offers some advice for the adventurous. “Keep in mind, not everything is as it seems,” he says with a smile.  “I like people. And I like to challenge them.”

“So many of our guests loved the park and really enjoyed the zip line portions, so we knew we had to add more.”
– Steve Fuller, Bristol Mountain

Choose your challenge
Construction is underway for a blue course “version point two,” where guests will be given an option halfway through. The course will split and they can decide to go left or right, making this the first aerial park on the east coast with such a feature, according to Early.

“It’s a unique way to choose your own destiny,” he says. “In a lot of parks, there’s just a quick escape. This gives you more benefit. Even if you decide to take the easier route, you’re still climbing through at least four more challenges and you get the zip line at the end, too. So it’s not like you’re sacrificing fun.”

The adventure starts on platforms ranging in elevation from 10 to 60 feet above the forest floor. There are currently over 100 obstacle options, with more elements planned for future courses and alternate routes.

“Our staff loves to say there’s no right or wrong way, there’s just an easy or a hard way,” Fuller says.
A sustainable future
From the onset, it was important to Bristol that there be minimal disturbance to the forest, and Tree-Mendous was chosen for the project based on its environmentally conscious designs. The Albany-based company is a certified B-Corporation, recognized as meeting higher standards of social and environmental performance.

“Everything was brought in by hand, and everything was raised by hand,” Fuller says. No mechanized machinery or lifts were used to install platforms or elements. No spikes were used by construction crews for climbing. No nails or screws are ever placed in the trees – platforms are secured using tension and wedges, which are also used to protect the trees from ropes.

The three and a half month build was no easy feat, Fuller says. It started in February, and crews worked through the winter. The 1,500- to 2,000-pound logs used for the courses were so heavy that a series of zip lines was created just to haul them.

Two years ago, there were about 30 aerial adventure parks in the United States. Today there are more than 60, with four in New York including Bristol’s, one in the Adirondacks and two in the southwestern part of the state. The phenomenon began 20 years ago in Europe, where it’s now well established – with roughly 2,500 parks in Switzerland and Austria alone.

Fun for the family
Less of an adventure park and more of a family-fun park, Greek Peak Adventure Center is only a slightly more traditional summer-fun destination. Tucked away just south of Cortland, the half-mile long zip lines can be seen from the road as you arrive. Open three years now, it has four dual-line zip line tours. Greek Peak isn’t just zip lines. It offers a myriad of other fun outdoor activities including a bungee zone, laser tag and a kid-sized climbing wall, in addition to a mountain coaster.

“The friendly atmosphere at Greek Peak really won me over.”
– Erin Scorse, ski instructor at Elk Mountain, Pennsylvania

“The friendly atmosphere at Greek Peak really won me over,” says Erin Scorse, a ski instructor at Elk Mountain in Pennsylvania, who has been racing on mountains across New York State since childhood. “Greek Peak seemed like a cool place to spend the day, especially with a family.”

Greek Peak currently has four zip lines of varying lengths, for both the brave and faint of heart. The Blue Line is the shortest at 300 feet and takes off from the second floor of the main building. Once you’ve landed, the trail splits off with a sign directing you to the other three: Northwoods Express, measuring 500-feet long; Wolf Jaw, measuring 900-feet long; and Cloudsplitter, the quarter-mile-long monster line. Guests on the Cloudsplitter line soar 60 feet over the ground and can reach speeds of more than 40 miles per hour.

If zip lines aren’t your thing, the Nor’Easter Mountain Coaster is one of the Adventure Center’s newest attractions, and offers guests almost a mile of alpine slide meets rollercoaster fun. Built to explore every dip, turn and dive of the mountain, the carts are made for two and are independently controlled. Each ride is unique, with one person in back controlling the brakes and one in front, holding on for dear life – or taking pictures!

“Both places could have used a bar,” Scorse says with a laugh. “But each has found a way to utilize the mountain during the off-season and provide jobs. That’s pretty cool.”

Roseland Wake Park, the only Cable Wake Park system in the Northeast will open the end of June 2015 adjacent to Roseland Waterpark on Muar Lake in Canandaigua. This boat-free attraction will feature a five tower system with a variety of water features including jumps, rails and kickers. It has the capacity for nine riders at one time. Learning to wakeboard, kneeboard, waterski or wake skate is easy and fun with Roseland Wake Park’s expert instructors and the Lil Bro, a two-tower learning system. Those new to the sport can take advantage of the Learn to Ride package ($49) with the guarantee that participants will get up. Roseland Wake Park will also have a rental and retail center for watersports gear. Camps will be offered during the summer months. Stand up paddleboard (SUP) rentals are also available.

Another fun attraction at Roseland Wake Park will be the
AquaGlide. This inflated, floating obstacle course is fun for adults and kids alike and is a great venue for birthday parties. For more information please visit Roseland Waterpark, located next door, opens its 15th season on June 27.

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