From innkeeper Jeff: On My Bucket List
A zip line adventure has been on my bucket list since seeing them on a Travel Channel cable television show about six or seven years ago. I almost did a zip line tour in Honduras while taking a land excursion on a five-day ocean cruise. The zip line operators only accepted cash and all I had were credit cards, so no zip. It was probably a good thing as I wasn’t one hundred percent sure about the safety of that operation.
Fast forward about six years. A zip line operator installed a ten line (so far) attraction in Eureka Springs just a few miles from my bed and breakfast inn. As a “soft” opening for the new attraction the managers invited the merchants, restaurateurs, attractions and lodging owners for a complimentary zip line tour for up to two employees of the local business. I jumped at the chance to experience the new zip line as well as being able to tell my guests first-hand about the adventure in store for them. I would like to thank Will and Kendra Wall, the managers, for making this available and making it a fantastic experience.
I watched as some of the zip lines were being built in Branson, Missouri, and in the Ponca, Arkansas, area in the last few years. While I haven’t done the zip lines in either Branson or Ponca, in my opinion, the Eureka Springs installation and experience is an authentic tree-top zip line experience. The entire tour exceeded my expectations.
Before You Go
You would think this type of “extreme adventure” attraction would have some rigorous requirements to participate, but the requirements are much less than you might imagine. Check the Ozark Mountain Zip Line website for the official list of requirements to ride. They have had riders as young as three years old (with a guide) and as long as you can hike a little ways, you’re good to go. I had no physical challenges zipping all ten lines.
Closed toe shoes are recommended and shorts can be worn. In hindsight I recommend wearing a shirt you can easily tuck in to your pants as it makes putting on and adjusting the harness easier. Moderately-sized back packs seemed wearable while zipping. You can carry your DSLR or camera phone in your backpack as there are opportunities to photograph and video others in your group riding the line when you’ve already done your turn. I recommend not having anything in your front pants pockets that you’re going to want to get to while between lines as the harness can make it hard to access those pockets. I couldn’t get to my iPhone for photos without undoing and redoing my harness. Plan ahead. You’ll be wearing a helmet while zipping so you might want to leave hats and caps in the car. Sunglasses on a sunny day are a must. It’s a two-hour tour to do all ten lines so you might want a small bottle of water available between lines.
You will need to call the Ozark Mountain Zip Line office in Eureka Springs to make your reservation. Plan on arriving one-half hour early to the office before your tour time to meet the friendly crew and staff and to complete your waiver, customer information and make payment. The paper work takes about 10-12 minutes. After completing the paperwork, you’ll be taken to the harness room where you’ll be fitted with a helmet, gloves, a harness and a “truck”. A truck is tethered to you and the zip line while you’re on it and allows you to glide along the line, steer and brake. After “harnessing up” you’ll be loaded on the bus to be transported to the zip line site. It’s about a 5-minute ride on the bus.
The Ozark Mountain Zip Line property is a beautiful 30 acre tract covered with trees with high hills and deep valleys. We call ‘em “hollars” (hollows) in Arkansas. The first zip line is for acclimation – getting used to riding the zip line, learning to steer and the all important braking function. The guides are extremely patient, clear and deliberate in explaining what they are doing when they “hook you up” to the line and how to ride and use the brake. I felt extremely comfortable with the interaction with my guides. The safety and equipment seemed first class and I always felt secure on the platforms and the lines themselves as well as the harness. During the tour, one of the guides zips the line first to the receiving platform. This guide is there to signal your braking, catch you (if necessary) at the platform and for traffic control. The other guide remains to hook you up and send you down the line when the other guide signals “all clear”. After you and the members of your tour ride the line, the remaining guide zips over and you start again in the next line. My first zip was a little challenging as I was so enthralled with zipping along I ignored the braking signal from the forward guide and had to be caught before I hit the tree. I was patiently sent back for another try where I perfected my braking technique. The brake is really effective so other than using it to stop at the end of the line you don’t really need to use it lest you get stalled in the middle of a zip trip. If you do, you can hand-over-hand on the line or a guide will come out and get you.
Getting High in the Ozarks
The next two lines were a little longer and a little higher in the trees. Many of the zip line platforms are suspended from trees or perched in the side of the high hills, so you’re zipping from tree to tree on many of the lines. There is a small uphill hike to reach a couple of the lines, but generally you’re going from line to line. My favorite was the longest and highest line. I won’t spoil it by revealing too much detail but it was a breathtaking ride over the trees. The trees were naked when I did my tour, but I imagine it will be even more breathtaking when the trees have their leaves come spring. When I looked back at the originating platform upon completing my “long” ride, I had trouble believing that I rode suspended on a cable that long and that high. On this ride the wind was blowing through the “hollar”. The wind has a tendency to twist you around as you traverse the valley, but the steering by the truck is very responsive and I had no trouble keeping my body pointed in the direction of travel. Some people like to twist in the wind, but you want to be facing forward when you land at the platform at the end of the line.
The guides were great, the equipment was substantial, comfortable and secure, and the lines and platforms look to be engineered beyond requirements for safety and security. I do a fair amount of repair at the bed and breakfast (a 130-year-old building next year) and I tend to over-engineer everything; I had nothing but confidence in the security of the lines, platforms or equipment. This tour definitely got my adrenaline going and my heart rate up without any overt exertion. I was very saddened when I realized we had done ten lines and were done with the tour. I definitely wanted to go again. Look for the announcement of additional lines as well as “tours by torchlight” (night tours) coming in the future.
If a tour like this isn’t on your bucket list it should be, and here is a great place to get it checked-off and have a great time!
Jeff and Nadara (Sam) Feldman – and Sophie, too! (although not on the zipline!)