‘Canopy tour’ is a first for Virginia state parks

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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Virginia Canopy Tours started construction
on the park course in July 2013.
Photo courtesy Virginia Canopy Tours

Visitors to Shenandoah River State Park in Warren County now can glide through the trees on a zip line, thanks to a course built by Virginia Canopy Tours. The course, which opened in April, is the first of its kind in a Virginia state park.

Virginia Canopy Tours, a sister company of North Georgia Canopy Tours, approached the state through the Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002, which gives companies the opportunity to submit proposals for projects. “We can negotiate with any we feel are appropriate or worthwhile,” says Gary Waugh, public relations manager for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The department looked at the company’s offerings and sent personnel to Georgia to check out the course in place there. “It seemed compatible with what we do in our state parks,” Waugh says. “We felt it was a nature-oriented type of offering as well as a family-oriented offering. We decided it was worth giving it a try.”

Virginia Canopy Tours started construction on the course in July 2013. The company contracted with Bonsai Design in Grand Junction, Colo., to design and build it. “They have been building courses since 1992,” says Bonnie Nicklien, office manager for Virginia Canopy Tours in Bentonville. “They use recycled materials and steel frames. They are eco-friendly.”

The course is designed to hug the trees. As the trees grow out, the platforms will expand around them. “They won’t cut off growth,” Nicklien says of the platforms. “We wanted to highlight the ridgelines and utilize the natural resources.” 

The course includes eight zip lines, two bridges, two nature hikes and a rappel. “It takes about two and a half hours,” Nicklien says. “There are two certified guides that handle all the equipment and take care of the gear and harness. We also do an eco-tour of the park.”

The course contains more than 3,000 feet of cable on the zip line. Zips range from 200 to 1,039 feet in length. “The course starts low and slow,” Nicklien says. “All of the zips are in the trees. The highest zip is 90 feet, and you get mountain views.”

The canopy tour, which costs $84 per person, is a revenue generator for the company and the park system. “We do get a percentage of the profits they make,” Waugh says, adding, “This is new to us. We are evaluating and seeing if it’s something worthwhile to try in other parks. We are still in that evaluation stage.”

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