While residents forced cities to abandon plans for a commercial zip line at Lincoln Park in Seattle and Gold Creek Park in Woodinville, Bellevue has been running one at Eastgate Park for the past year without opposition.
Angry West Seattle neighbors forced the city parks department in 2012 to abandon plans for a commercial zip line in Lincoln Park over a perceived threat to wildlife and the peace and quiet of a beloved urban sanctuary.
A similar proposal met the same fate in Woodinville when King County approached neighbors of Gold Creek Park who protested that the plan wasn’t compatible with existing uses.
So how was it that last year Bellevue opened a zip-line course at Eastgate Park on a steep, wooded hillside minutes from Interstate 90? What kind of opposition did the Bellevue project have to overcome?
“Zero opposition,” said Brad Bennett, manager of South Bellevue Community Center, which is also in the park and schedules reservations. In its first seven months, the Eastgate zip-line tour attracted 4,400 riders and brought in $100,000 for the city in a profit-sharing arrangement with the private operator, according to the company.
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The feedback from neighbors, Bennett said, is that they’re glad to have positive activity in the park.
A few factors have played into differing public acceptance of proposed zip-line courses, such as early notification, the site selected and protections for the environment, parks officials say.
In Bellevue, the city reached out to nearby residents early. Eastgate Park already was the site of a ropes-challenge course that regularly drew school groups and other organizations, with few effects to the neighborhood. And arborists and wildlife experts were able to document that there would be few negative impacts to the park’s trees and birds.
“I think the acceptance had everything to do with the existing challenge course. We’d been able to manage the numbers of people and minimize the physical and visual impacts to the neighborhood,” Bennett said.
West Seattle residents didn’t learn of the Lincoln Park proposal until almost a year after the parks department first discussed the idea and had identified a potential private partner, Go Ape, which operated several zip lines around the country and more than two dozen in the U.K.
“It seemed like the Lincoln Park proposal blindsided people,” said Scott Andrews, principal of Northwest Teambuilding, which operates the Bellevue zip line and two others in the region.
“If I was in their shoes (Seattle Parks and Recreation), I would have had a conversation with the public before I decided what kind of vendor I wanted.”
Christopher Williams, acting superintendent of Seattle Parks and Recreation at the time of the Lincoln Park proposal, agreed that the city should have reached out to residents sooner.
“That’s one of the big lessons learned. It’s important to bring in the community at the very, very start,” Williams said.
With the passage of Proposition 1 in November, which created a park district in Seattle with more annual revenues for city parks, Williams said there’s less pressure to identify moneymaking activities.
And not every neighborhood objects. He said a ropes course with a zip line was built without opposition in 2012 at Camp Long, another West Seattle park.
The choice of site matters.
Camp Long has long been an education and environmental center that regularly hosts school groups and other organizations. The ropes course is managed and run by parks staff, not a private company, which also distinguishes it from the Lincoln Park plan.
County seeks zip-line site
Early notice may help, but it may not carry the day.
Butch Lovelace, program manager for King County parks, said county staff immediately approached neighbors with the Gold Creek proposal when the county began considering the site for a zip-line course.
He said neighbors complained that a park popular with horseback riders was not a good location for a zip line. They also said the proposed course was too close to houses, and that the parking lot couldn’t be expanded to accommodate the new zip-line customers.
Lovelace said King County is looking for a site for a treetop adventure course that would include zip lines, as well as obstacles and challenge features such as ladder bridges. He said the Cougar/Squak Corridor Park, where the county acquired 226 additional acres last year to create a 730-acre park in the valley between Cougar and Squak mountains in Issaquah, is under consideration.
The course would cover up to 10 acres of the park and be near the park’s edge, not on undisturbed forest land, Lovelace said.
Reports from around the country keep the county interested in developing zip-line courses.
“We’ve heard that they attract new users, that they’ve been well-received by the public and that they raise revenues for the parks systems,” he said.
Lovelace said that standard procedure for zip-line courses is to bring in an arborist and a wildlife expert to consult on protecting the natural environment.
“It’s in the interest of the operator to have a healthy tree system and it’s one of our top priorities as well,” he said.
Flying through treetops
At the Eastgate Park zip line, tour guides get extensive safety training.
The course is independently inspected annually, and guides ride the lines every morning and night and check the equipment after each use. The six and a half lines (the half brings participants back to the ground) aren’t visible from nearby roads, nor are the neighboring houses visible from the course.
On a recent morning, Shariff Khader and his daughter Sameena, 10, visiting from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, donned safety harnesses, helmets and gloves for their climb up the first ladder to start the rides. Sameena had been turned away from another zip-line course last year because she didn’t weigh the required 75 pounds.
Although she was eager to get onto the course, she had second thoughts on the first steel platform, 20 feet off the ground, where she had to step off into thin air and let the harness and steel carabiners support her weight as she flew through the treetops.
One of the young guides, Tiffany Swaw, 19, said she overcame her own fear of heights when she first tried the zip line last year. She liked it so much, she said, she applied for an open position and now encourages riders like Sameena to believe in themselves and their abilities.
By the end of the course, the girl was stepping backward off platforms and swinging from side to side on wobbly rope bridges that link some of the different lines. The canopy of Douglas fir and broad leaf maple was dappled by sun and was surprisingly quiet, even with riders occasionally whooping like Tarzan as they whizzed through the air.
One zip line ended at a high platform with a sweeping view to the north of the Cascades and Mount Baker.
Another guide, Lee Peha, 24, said technology continues to advance on zip-line courses. More space is now left between the platforms and the anchor trees for them to grow, for example. Large bolts anchor the cables to the trees, but the trees heal around the bolts.
Guiding groups of up to 10 through the course is a daily rush, he agreed, but he said he also enjoys the park’s peaceful setting.
“At the end of the day, I’m enjoying nature as it is,” Peha said.