Hilton Head officials go high and low to launch zip line park

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Hilton Head officials go high and low to launch zip line park

By TOM BARTON
tbarton@islandpacket.com
Published Monday, April 16, 2012   |  674 Words  |  

Starting today, residents and visitors can fly down a zip line at Broad Creek Marina, owned by Pam and Roger Freedman, and "wheeee" themselves silly with pure adrenaline like the pig in the GEICO insurance commercial.

Pinwheels are optional.

Zipline Hilton Head launched its service Monday to the media, town officials and other invitees before opening today to the public.

Mayor Drew Laughlin, town manager Steve Riley and Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce president Bill Miles were on hand to mark the opening and promote eco-tourism.

"I was apprehensive at first when Roger brought this to me," Laughlin said. "My impression was this was something lunatics and daredevils string over gorges, river valleys and things like that."

The mayor also questioned whether the project would be consistent with the island's image of blending with and preserving nature. How would 75-foot towers with cables strung along the tree canopy affect Hilton Head's scenic beauty?

"I thought they were going to wreck a lot of trees," Councilman Ken Heitzke said Monday. "But they seem to have preserved a lot of them and did a good job. Now I've changed my mind."

Ditto for Laughlin, who zipped past Roger Freedman in a friendly competition on the course's 900-foot, dual-cable racing zip line. Miles zipped past Riley in a separate race.

Freedman worked with zip line course builder STEPS Inc. to preserve -- rather than tear down -- trees and build platforms around oaks, pines and bays.

"The original design was all tower-based, but we wanted to get people up in the trees," project manager and designer Cameron Byers said. "We call it 'elevation reclamation'" or tree-hopping.

It's also better than the alternative of what could have been built on the property, Byers said.

"Instead of building condos, they researched into our industry and said this is a better way to go," he said. "It saves the property and shows it off to people who can come out and have a good time."

The Freedmans hired an ecologist as a guide to teach zip liners about the island's flora and fauna. Guides were also taught and quizzed about Hilton Head's history and culture during their weeks of training, which included first aid and extensive safety drills for responding to medical emergencies and potential injuries.

Zipline Hilton Head reflects the boom in both eco-tourism and zip-lining around the world, Miles said. Zip lines and canopy tours are fast becoming part of the mainstream, he said, shifting from a tool to study rain forests to increasingly popular attractions -- be it educational outings to explore nature from a different view or pure amusement.

"We're a family resort without a lot for families to do," Riley said. "Thirty years ago, it was enough to play golf and sit and relax on the beach."

Not today, when families seem to be constantly on the go, trying to pack as much as they can into fewer days, he said.

"They want a variety of things to do. This, combined with the kayaking, parasailing, dolphin nature tours ... will make us more attractive," he said.

Freedman said he plans to add a ropes course, bungee trampoline, rock climbing wall and a 'Lil' Zipper' for youngsters later this summer.

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