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Asheville gets zipline with view of downtown



8/31/2011 - Asheville gets zipline with view of downtown
by Karen Chavez - Asheville Citizen Times

Want a bird's eye view of Downtown Asheville??  Now you can REALLY have one!!  Welcome to inventive entrepreneurship here in the mountains of Western North Carolina!!


            ASHEVILLE -- When Asheville adventure entrepreneur Jeff Greiner starts a new project, he begins by channeling his inner bird brain.

 Greiner stands in the middle of a forest, a river valley or, most recently, the golf course at the Crowne Plaza Resort and thinks, "Now if I were up in the trees, where would I want to fly?" 

His airborne animal instincts kick in, scoping out the branches of giant white oaks and the perches of towering tulip poplars. And that's how a zip line canopy tour is born.

On Tuesday morning, Greiner introduced his latest high-flying project, Asheville Zipline Canopy Adventures. The first "urban" zip line in Asheville city limits, and the latest of Greiner and family's five zip lines throughout Western North Carolina, it has the best aspects of a bird's life in a city setting.

"The whole idea of being in a wooded, city landscape is kind of different," said Greiner, who lives in Asheville with his family, who are co-owners of Adventure America Zipline Canopy Tours. "The cool thing is you're flying from tree to tree, out across open areas, and back into the trees."

The course, which opened to a media tour Tuesday, is like a grown-up's treehouse playground set on 20 acres of the scenic former front nine of the Crowne Plaza's golf course. Starting at the "Jenga Tower," where guests climb to a 54-foot-high launch deck, zippers get to feast on the Asheville skyline and Blue Ridge Mountains before hurling themselves out into the great wide open.

The first zip line -- a steel cable on which guests glide while suspended only by a pulley and harness system -- runs about 350 feet to a landing on a 150-year-old white oak. Zippers are guided in by rangers who encourage safety while telling bad jokes to cajole guests along the precipitous bridges and tree decks.

Chris Bebenik started out the 2 1/2-hour tour with heavy breathing and buglike, fear-filled eyeballs.

"I was really nervous going in because I have a fear of heights," Bebenick said. "But once I got away from the edge of the deck and got going out there, I had a really great time. I've never done anything that compares to this."

After he got over the initial fear of letting go on platforms more than 50 feet in the air, zipping up to 30 mph along cables up to a quarter-mile long, Bebenick said the flying sensation became addictive.

Zip line fever

That infatuation seems to be spreading across the country. Zip lining has been exploding in the United States over the past few years, after getting its start in the rain forests of Costa Rica in the late 1990s. According to the Association for Challenge Course Technology, North Carolina has the most zip line tours after Hawaii, with 17.

After the Asheville Zipline, the closest to the city is Navitat Canopy Adventures in Barnardsville, about 20 minutes north of Asheville, and two zip lines that just opened this summer in Lake Lure.

Greiner believes there are enough resident and visiting thrill-seekers to go around, even in a recession.

"When we started working on the idea for the Nantahala (the canopy tour he opened two years ago in the Nantahala Gorge), the economy was great," Greiner said. "You can't predict the timing of when an idea comes to fruition. But we find that even when the economy is bad, people want to get outdoors. And this is something different. There is a buzz around zip lining."

He likens it to the hype around whitewater rafting in the late 1970s and early '80s, and snowboarding in the '90s. He is also co-owner of Wildwater Rafting, which has been running trips in the Nantahala Gorge for 30 years.

The Asheville Zipline will be open seven days a week, 12 months a year, Greiner said, with discounts for guests of the Crowne Plaza Resort, which leases the land to Adventure America Zipline Canopy Tours.

"Our long-term goal is to be a destination resort," said Angela Beattie, Crowne Plaza director of marketing and sales. The resort recently expanded its racquet club, fitness center and tenni s courts.

"Dennis (Hulsing, Crowne Plaza owner) is really interested in family, fitness, wellness and taking care of yourself. We were looking for that outdoor, fun element for everyone. Jeff approached us with the zip line idea in December. Dennis was sold. Our guests are excited about it."

Like Indiana Jones

The Asheville canopy tour has 10 zip lines, three towers, three swinging bridges (including one dubbed the "Indiana Jones Bridge" for its purposely missing planks), and includes two double zip lines where riders zip side by side. A full-time arborist is employed to ensure the health and safety of the trees on the course. It was was built by Challenge Design Innovations of Pineola under the guidelines of ACCT, which sets building, inspection and training standards for zip lines.

"Any piece of life-supporting equipment has a minimum breaking strength of 5,000 pounds," said CDI builder Andrew Morris.

"We have a minimum requirement of once-a-year inspections, but we'll be doing two inspections a year because of the amount of people coming through," Morris said.

Asheville radio talk show host Blake Butler took a couple of hours out of his day to try out the zip line Tuesday, mere minutes from the Smoky Park Bridge and downtown Asheville.

"It was exhilarating. It was nice to be out among nature," Butler said. "It's so close to town, so it's nice not to have to travel far. This is right in our backyard. I can only imagine in the fall with the colors, how beautiful it will be."

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