Visitors see state park from treetops

By Katie Demeria

BENTONVILLE — Visitors to Shenandoah River State Park have always had the option to drive or hike the scenic area, but now they can see the park from the treetops.

In April, Virginia Canopy Tours started offering zip-lining experiences to visitors, making the park the state’s first to provide the attraction, according to Office Manager Bonnie Nicklien.

Nicklien and her husband have been guiding zip-lining groups since 2010, when they got started in Georgia. When their company got the opportunity to work with a Virginia state park, the couple was able to move to the Front Royal area.

The partnership, Nicklien pointed out, is the first of its kind.

“It’s a win-win,” she said. “The state park attracts people to us when they come to visit, and we attract people to the park when they’re looking for places to zip.”

Zip lining does more than provide an adrenaline rush for those involved, she said. It really is a tour of the park, seen from the treetops.

“It is a sport or recreation, as a tree-based course,” she said. “But it also lets people learn about the area. Our guides teach them about the trees and the park as they go.”

Groups of around eight zip line together, Nicklien said. The course takes two and a half hours to complete and includes eight zips from tree to tree, two bridges, two hikes and one rappel off the platform on the tree.

And Nicklien said the guides work with people from all different lifestyles or disabilities — the only requirement to zip is being able to walk one mile flat, she said, which is about the amount of physical exertion necessary.

The course also includes an area from which participants can repel to the ground about three platforms in if they feel uncomfortable, Nicklien added.

“We can make accommodations for just about anyone,” she said.

The course took several months to construct. Its planning and design was a “huge process,” according to Nicklien.

Zip-lining platforms are built with the health of the tree in mind. They are designed around the tree, allowing it to grow naturally even while being used for the course.

“We have arborists come out to survey all the trees we use,” Nicklien said. “And there’s also a lot of physics involved in designing a course.”

Guides learn about some of those physics when they undergo training, according to Nicklien, so they understand more about how it works.

Training takes place during a 60-hour week, which includes five days of 10-hour training and a test day that takes another 10 hours.

“We take safety very seriously,” Nicklien said.

The course is walked every day before participants are allowed out on the course, and all participants have to pass a ground training school before zipping, during which they learn how the harness works.

“For a lot of people, this is the first outdoor adventure,” Nicklein said. “We want them to have fun.”

To find out more about zip lining at the state park, go to https://www.zipthepark.com.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com