By Jeff Nations
LURAY -- Tony Higginbotham had been musing about the best way to make use of his land for the better part of 30 years before a casual conversation provided the answer.
Higginbotham and his wife, Sharon, have long owned land right next door to the popular Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park campground. Figuring out an attraction to tie into Jellystone had long been on Higginbothom's mind, when a conversation with campground owner John Rust provided the perfect answer.
"I was talking to the Yogi Bear campground owner, John Rust, and he gave me the idea," Higginbotham said. "We were actually going to put some four-wheeler tours in here, and he said, 'Well, why don't you put a zip line in?' I didn't know what a zip line was -- I kind of did -- but I thought that was a good idea."
Higginbotham put that good idea into practice, and last spring Bear Mountain's Mama Bear Zipline was ready for its first customers. Since that opening last year, Higginbotham said he's seeing more and more people arrive, often first-timers, to try ziplining.
"Every month this year we've increased volume," Higginbotham said. "And the more people we run down the mountain, the word of mouth will do a lot. So far, everybody's just been tickled to death going down it."
The Mama Bear Zipline actually consists of seven separate zip lines covering a total of about 2,700 feet. The lines get longer as participants progress through the course, ending with a nearly 1,000-foot ride through the forest canopy down to the final platform tower.
Before anyone is allowed to zipline, Bear Mountain's guides provide instruction and training for all the equipment needed -- basically a carabineer, harness, gloves and helmet -- and ensure all participants are properly fitted into their gear.
From there, it's a long, scenic wagon ride nearly straight up a mountain to the first zip line. That's the training line, where guides demonstrate braking by putting tension on the zip line cable with a gloved hand. Other than braking and demonstrating the ability to pull themselves to the waiting platform if they brake too early, no further technical skills are required of participants.
"It's pretty much an adrenaline rush, the first couple lines that you go down, and then you start calming down and it's kind of peaceful once you get started down a line," Higginbotham said. "
Lisa Sutton of Lawrenceville, Ga., agreed with that assessment after her trip through the mixed-forest canopy on Monday.
"This was the first time, and yeah, I would absolutely do it again," Sutton said. "It was fun."
Miami's Greg Norvesh thought so, too, despite an admitted fear of heights. It was his second zip line experience, but the Mama Bear was quite a bit more involved than his first.
"This was more of a professional zip line -- there was a small one I did at a camp, but it was just for little kids, so it wasn't really anything that big," Norvesh said. "This was definitely much higher, and obviously as I've grown up I've sort of developed the fear of heights that I have now. But when I felt locked in, it didn't bother me at all when I was standing up there."
Higginbotham said that with the business steadily growing, plans are already in the works to expand the Bear Mountain operation. The company also offers a rock-climbing wall.
"It's working out real well," Higginbotham said. "We've got some other things we want to put in here, as well, a ropes course with a little zip line. And of course, the big zip line -- hopefully next year we can put that in -- it'll be two zip lines side-by-side coming off. It'll be about a 30-second ride."
The zip line has been a hit so far, and seems to fit seamlessly into the landscape of mixed forest and farmland it crosses on the Higginbotham's property.
"It's all completely green," Higginbotham said. "You don't have any power to it, or anything like that. It's about as green as you can get."
For more information on Bear Mountain Ziplines, visit the website at www.bearmountainadventure.com or call 540-743-1733.