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Photo courtesy Metro Richmond Zoo
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The treetop adventure course covers 3,000 feet through the forest and zoo and includes suspended bridges, hanging logs and tightropes. Photo courtesy Metro Richmond Zoo
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Photo courtesy Metro Richmond Zoo
How many kids don't want to fly through the trees like Tarzan and Jane? But trips to Africa can be so expensive. Happily, you can save the plane fare and the Deet, and head down Hull Street to Metro Richmond Zoo's new Treetop Zoofari Zip Line and Adventure Park.
Chesterfield County's latest attraction opened in November and is not just about finding a new way to connect people with the 18-year-old zoo; it's also about enlivening the human experience. "We're encouraging people to try to do new things," says Jim Andelin, the zoo's founder and director. "Our intent with this course is to provide a physical challenge to help people build confidence, get them outside, get them exercise."
While this isn't the first adventure course in or around Richmond, it has something most other parks don't: a bird's-eye view of the animals. "The whole course goes a long way around the whole zoo," says Andelin. "You're up in the canopy of the trees, and you can view the world like animals who live up in the trees do." The park, developed and installed by Monroe, Fla.-based Treetop Adventure Concept, features obstacles like jungle ropes, floating logs, tight wires, an Indiana Jones bridge and, of course, zip lines that run over animal enclosures.
"We are very ecofriendly and big on nature," says Tanya Brown, development coordinator for Treetop Adventure Concept. "The courses offer a better view of nature, exhibits and the animals, and makes the zoo experience more enjoyable." Essentially, it's all about family fun.
The adventure park, with 52 challenges and 15 zip lines, is a natural evolution for the zoo, which, since its inception in 1995, has always had an active approach to offering a more unique experience with the animals. Visitors can pet and feed giraffes, view penguin-feeding time and take rides through and above parts of the zoo, which houses 1,500 animals from 148 species. The zoo also hosts special programs throughout the year, including a one-day summer camp for kids.
The park's courses cover 3,000 feet through the forest and zoo, and are divided between beginner and advanced. The beginner's course isn't just for kids; it's also an option for anyone who is afraid of heights but still wants a (tiny) taste of adrenalin. "The beginning course has 14 different challenges that are lower to the ground, for people who are not as comfortable being up so high," Andelin says. "It's a neat area, because it goes over a creek and has one zip line." The zip line is about 100 feet long and goes from a short platform right into a sandpit — easy peasy. There are also suspended bridges with hanging logs to negotiate, tightropes for the ultimate balance test, and barrels to crawl through.
For daredevils, the advanced course has significant gains in height, with tree platforms that range from 12 to 40 feet off the ground. This one is certainly not for the weak of heart, and there's a height requirement of 54 inches tall.
Before ascending to the treetop course, there's a 20-minute briefing on how to use a safety line that participants are harnessed to at all times. A fall-arrest system that operates like a car seatbelt is also in place, so if you fall, you won't fall far, and you'll brake quickly.
On this course, there are different challenges from tree to tree. Some are similar to the beginner course, but at a higher elevation, such as a ladder between trees that you walk over — it sounds simple, except that you're peering through ladder rungs from 30 feet up. The course eventually comes to a proverbial fork in the road, and it's up to you just how daring you want to get.
"We'll have a more difficult path and an easy path," says Andelin. "People who want a more physical course, they'll take the more difficult path, with more moving elements, swinging, and things requiring more balance." Challenges include "surfing" between two trees on a board mounted on a cable, and swinging on a rope like Tarzan of the jungle. "There's a big rope, and you grab on to it and swing into a net," Andelin explains. "The net catches you, and you have to climb through the net to get to the tree platform."
Whichever path you choose, you end up at the zip line course, with 10 lines that fly right over the animals for a whole new zoo experience. These zip lines are much longer — as long as 600 feet — and some get progressively faster.
"A big, long zip goes over a 5-acre pond in the zoo. It's beautiful," Andelin says. "And then you land in a tree above the South American exhibit, with llamas, rheas and tapirs all around you. Then you zip into the kangaroo yard and go over monkey cages and several bird cages, and you see a giraffe." After a few more tree climbs and zips, you finally zoom over people in the picnic area, over the parking lot and back to where you started. "It's just incredible to see everything from that totally different perspective," Andelin says
Metro Richmond Zoo
8300 Beaver Bridge Road, Mosley, Va.
- Admission $10.75-$15.75; kids under two are free.
- Admission for adventure park: $15 for the Junior Explorers Course; $45 for the Treetop Zoofari Course
- Open Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Closed Sundays, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve)