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Resident proposes zipline for BV Park

Monday, July 9, 2012

Proposal: zipline could be part of an area-wide eco-tour.
"I fly 35 miles an hour through the air strapped in a nylon harness attached to a pulley on a steel cable. The landscape rushes past in a blur of greens and blues. I've never been so frightened in my 73 years, never been so exhilarated, never felt so alive," says Jean Hartley, a disabled polio survivor who never thought she would do something as daring as her first ride on a zipline.

She tried to beg off. But others with her insisted she was part of the group and could not be left out. "You are important," they told her.

"I'm near tears. No one ever said that to me before. I was the little 'polio girl' with heavy leg braces who stayed in at recess playing jacks alone."

They carried her up the tower and hooked her into the harness for a race down the cable on the wooded hillside.

"I want to shout to the forest that I have just experienced aliveness... that I was not kept in at recess, and that I could add 'thrill' to my list of emotions.... My sweat even smells good, smells brave."

It is this thrill that rural Buena Vista County resident Tim Humes wants to share with northwest Iowans.

On Tuesday, he will be on the agenda for the county conservation commission's meeting in Linn Grove, to propose construction of a zipline tower and ride at the Buena Vista County Conservation Park.

The steep hillside of the park was once home to a winter tube sledding lift, and would be ideal for a zipline attraction of the kind that are being developed all over the world for eco-adventure fans.

Humes also wants to draw on the experience of people like Hartley, who has gone on to establish Disabled Adventures Hawaii. Zipline technology has now advanced to the point where BV County could team with a company to build a disability-accessible ride, one that could even be accessed by those in a wheelchair.

It is a concept Humes has been pushing for a few years, since he first challenged himself to ride a zipline in Costa Rica. More recently, he rode a jungle zipline called "Flight of the Gibbon" in Thailand, and there, his plan began to take shape.

He proposes that the BV County zipline be called "Flight of the Eagles," connecting with the local efforts to reestablish the wild birds in the area.

So far, has has had interest from tourism people in Storm Lake and around the area. Local conservation leaders have expressed some concern about not wanting to turn their wilderness park into a "theme park."

Humes absolutely agrees. The whole appeal of the project is the natural environment, he says. He proposes making the Flight of the Eagle the highlight of an "Eco Tour" to involve at least four counties.

"Even in our own county, there are wonderful places in our environment that people don't even know about," he says.

Ideally, Humes would like to see a shuttle bus established - that could pick people up from King's Pointe in Storm Lake to the resort areas of Lake Okoboji, providing a day-long tour of the ecological highlights of the area, culminating in the zipline adventure. He feels people would come from some distance to take part. "I think we would even have groups of disabled veterans coming in, if they could use our zipline."

The zipline could also be part of an adventure sports challenge, or corporate team-building retreats.

While the county park is a treasure, without an attraction to promote, it is vastly under-utilized by the general public, he feels.

The request Tuesday will be to raise enough interest to form a committee to explore the potential for building a zipline, which would include a tower, serpentine accessibility ramp, and perhaps two or three different ziplines running in different directions and angles into soft landing zones.

This form of zipline would utilize safety harnesses, and have been proven to be a very safe activity when properly supervized, he says Humes proposes that students aiming toward conservationist careers be utilized as paid interns to staff the site, which would be controlled when not in use so people couldn't misuse it. And he suggests profits from the zipline could be plowed back into local conservation and park efforts.

With a paddling trail on the nearby river and hopes rising for a regional bike trail connecting Storm Lake with the Lakes region, the time may be ripe to develop the attraction, he feels.

"We could offer people an experience they will never forget, and at the same time, get them out there to appreciate the natural wonders that we have here - things that a lot of people don't even realize exists."

The eco-tour could visit the lakes, rivers and prairie savannah areas, but also could explore the region's clean wind energy, its Native American and pioneer legacies, efforts to restore populations of wildlife such as swans, eagles and otters, and share the resources of the Prairie Heritage Center.

The project would have a low impact on the environment, and an engineer who works with the DNR has indicated that he could help with design of the zipline, said Humes, who was once a candidate for county supervisor, and has also worked with the local Trumpeter Swan Restoration program.

Humes admits that he won't be able to answer one question that is likely to arise - how much will this cost?

If the conservation commission is open to the idea, a committee could investigate the costs, maintenance and operation issues for the project, he says.

If all goes well, people won't have to go to Maui, Cancun or the rainforest eco-tourism sites - or even to Dubuque where Iowa's first large-scale public zipline "Sky Tours" is in place, or Coralville, where a riverfront plan proposes such a ride.

Just to the county park, where the environment is already in place. And no one needs to stay in from recess.

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