If you feel the need to channel your inner Tarzan and Jane, you’ll have your chance beginning this weekend over at Turtle Back Zoo. Essex County is opening something called the Treetop Adventure Course, a series of challenges and obstacles all 35 feet or so above the ground.
Let’s be clear–this is not a resort zip line that you can swing through with a mai tai in one hand. It’s not the oak trunk you shimmied up as a kid. At a preview yesterday, reporters (including this one) struggled to maintain their grips, footing and composure as they moved from tree to tree across the hillside. Yes, we wore harnesses fit for a Mount Everest mountaineer. Yes, we were clipped in on a relay line that we were assured, repeatedly, could not come unhitched mid-course. Yes, the County Executive, Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr., was on the course ahead of us, so we could assume that our safety was just as high a priority as his. Yes, there were plenty of reassuring people, on the ground and occasionally on the tree platforms, telling us that we were “doing great” and “almost there”, even though that generally referred to the foot of open air we had to cross to the next wobbly foothold.
This is a challenge course, and the county is looking to attract the folks drawn to these kinds of things: Fitness folks, corporate team building groups and the like. While some commercial ropes courses are open to young children, the minimum height requirement for the Treetop Adventure Course is 54″. Kids under 12 have to be on the course with a parent or guardian (yes, that means you have to be in the air, not cheering Junior on from the ground) and those under 18 must have a consent form signed by a parent or guardian. You can’t be over 250 pounds to use the course and unlike a small turboprop airline, there’s no honor system: You’re going to be weighed before you are handed your helmet and harness.
So why do it? Simply put, because you’ll be amazed at what you will be capable of. You’ll start the Treetop Adventure Course looking way down at the ground and seriously questioning the sanity of the person who sent you up the platform. But after clearing its many rope bridges, wire bridges, zigzag boards, suspended logs, ladders and swinging wooden bridges and completing the 90-minute, two-part course you might actually feel yourself on par with Tarzan or his George of the Jungle knockoff. Fully prepared to take on the world.
The Treetop Adventure Course was built to go along with the zoo’s new Big Cat Country Exhibit, which opens next month. The county spent a little under $3.2 million to design and build the attraction, funded through the Essex County Capital Budget and with a grant from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund. DiVincenzo said Monday that money earned from the course would go to support programs at Turtle Back Zoo. The county has been ambitiously building out the property around the zoo, adding a miniature golf course, and also next month, a large new restaurant.
If there is a downside to the course, it might be this: It’s going to put serious pressure on Verona’s Ropes Course. This course, located on the Hilltop property across from Verona High School, is run by the Verona Recreation Department and sponsored by the Verona Municipal Alliance Committee. Used by a high school team building program in the past, it underwent a recent makeover to make it more appealing to the same groups that the county is targeting.
Practical details on the Treetop Adventure Course: Located behind the parking deck adjacent to Turtle Back Zoo, it opens this Saturday, September 24, and will remain open this year on weekends only through the Thanksgiving weekend, weather permitting. Hours are 10 a.m. to one hour before sunset and costs $20 per person. You’ve got to make a reservation, which you can do online.
Obstacle courses are perhaps the most effective of outdoor team building activities, in that they build team confidence, allow for effective collaboration/communiction and problem solving.
The only drawbacks are weather (obviously) and the seasonal nature of the activity, and the fact that not everyone in the group can participate if you’ve got seniors, people with disbilities etc.