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As Seattleites continue to enjoy active recreation, Parks and Recreation is making every effort to respond to the demand for new and emerging outdoor sports and recreational activities. Among these are dodgeball, bike polo, Futsal, inline roller hockey, handball, pickleball and ropes courses. Parks recently proposed the construction of a five-to-six acre high ropes course in Lincoln Park. After listening to the community, and though there is demand for this emerging form of recreation, it is clear there are some who do not support it at this location. For that reason Parks is withdrawing the proposal, and will make a decision later on whether to try to find an appropriate site in the park system.
Seattle Parks and Recreation aims to expand park and recreation opportunities, improve the way we deliver services and programs, and enhance the amenities offered at our facilities. We seek potential partners and concessionaires to further Seattle Parks’ mission and help us achieve our strategic goals, including business-oriented recreational opportunities that will benefit the public and honor our values of access, opportunity, and sustainability. With the current economic downturn and budget cuts, we especially seek partners to provide recreational activities or services that will reduce our dependency on the City's General Fund.
Expression of Interest and selection of Go Ape
In June 2010, Seattle Parks developed and posted on our Partnerships webpage an Expression of Interest form intended to encourage and welcome interested parties to engage in partnership opportunities with Seattle Parks. In response, in April 2011 Seattle Parks received three companies’ written preliminary proposals to construct and operate a high ropes course on park property. There is a nationwide trend in parks to develop recreational opportunities in the trees as high ropes, rope challenge courses, and zip lines become increasingly popular.
In May 2011, Parks issued a detailed questionnaire to the three responding organizations as a way to evaluate which could best construct and operate a high ropes course at a park site approved by Seattle Parks.
Seattle Parks selected Go Ape, a for-profit business, as the best potential partner to provide a high ropes course in a Seattle park. Go Ape has already built 26 high ropes courses in Europe, and has begun partnering with parks agencies to build courses in the United States. The first course in the US opened in May 2010 at Rock Creek Regional Park in Rockville, Maryland through a public-private partnership between Montgomery County Parks and Go Ape. In 2012, new ropes courses have opened in municipal parks in Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis, Indiana, and in Freedom Park in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Seattle Parks was motivated to explore a possible partnership with Go Ape based on the company’s extensive experience, high degree of professionalism and their attention to environmental protection and restoration. Parks staff have since spoken with staff from Rock Creek Regional Park and Freedom Park, both of whom provided extremely positive references for Go Ape. They each spoke about how impressed they were with Go Ape’s environmental protection and education policies and practices, and the notable increase in the number of overall park users generated by the Go Ape High Ropes Course.
Seattle Parks has been conducting an internal due-diligence process over the last year to explore the feasibility and desirability of partnering with Go Ape to construct a high ropes course at Lincoln Park in West Seattle. The partnership would include Go Ape also working collaboratively with the challenge course currently located at Camp Long, established in 2011 with the help of Washington 4-H and the Washington State University Extension. Although the two courses have some similarities, the high ropes course provides recreational activity, while the Camp Long course is primarily intended to teach leadership and life skills, especially to youth.
Public Involvement Plan
Seattle Parks will complete many additional steps before making any decision to proceed with the Go Ape high ropes course, including completion of a SEPA checklist, to determine what impacts there may be on the trees, habitat, and wildlife surrounding the course area.
We are now completing our public involvement plan (attached), which includes an onsite public meeting in early to mid-August to inform interested residents of the SEPA findings, provide more details on the proposed project, answer questions, and address concerns. We have already met with the Camp Long Advisory Council, and are meeting with the Fauntleroy Community Association on July 10 and the Morgan Junction Community Association on July 18. Parks is happy to meet with other interested community groups.
On October 25, an Ad Hoc committee of the Park Board will hold a public hearing on the proposal. At the general Park Board meeting on November 8, Commissioners will make a recommendation to the Superintendent.
If the decision is to approve construction of the Go Ape High Ropes Course at Lincoln Park, Seattle Parks will negotiate a contract that ensures that environmental concerns, public benefit, and the values of access, opportunity, and sustainability are not overshadowed by Go Ape’s need to operate a successful business. Parks expects Go Ape to help promote the Camp Long challenge course, provide free or reduced-admission tickets to the Go Ape course, and help with volunteer activities at the park such as removing invasive species and creating healthy habitat.
If a contract is negotiated, Parks would prepare legislation authorizing the contract and send it to the Seattle City Council for approval. Seattle Parks estimates receiving between $33,000 and $69,000 annually over five years. As with most new programs, customer attendance will take several years to reach its peak.
More information is available at www.goape.com.
- The course would be between five and six acres, or between 3.7 and 4.4 percent of the park’s 135 acres.
- It is situated in an already active area of the park near parking, a Little League field, the horseshoe pits and trails leading in/out of the park.
- We do not yet have a site design specific to the park; however, here are the standard elements that make up a course:
- A circular course consists of five “treetop trails” that each offer a different type of “challenge” for participants.
- A single zipline is used to exit the course.
- The course is 40 to 50 feet above the ground.
- Participants wear safety harnesses and use a belay system to move along the course.
- Platforms are secured by an adjustable apparatus that goes around each tree in a way that protects the tree from damage; as the tree expands, so does the apparatus. There is no drilling into a tree. Go Ape has an arborist on staff who inspects all trees at least twice per year.
- There is no fencing around the entire course. There is some wood fencing around each of the five entry points for safety.
- There is a trail on the ground below the course to allow friends, family or other interested observers to view participants as they move along the course. Because there are already existing trails in the proposed site, new trails will not have to be built.
- A small building of about 400 square feet will be built to serve as ticket office.
- Go Ape is in close consultation with Parks during all phases of construction.
- No heavy machinery is used during construction; all terrain vehicles bring in heavy materials.
- The course is made of cabling and natural materials to blend into the landscape.
Lincoln Park was selected because of the magnificent view that participants can enjoy from high above the trees. As has been the experience of other Parks with the Go Ape Course, we hope more people of all ages will get out of doors to enjoy the park, and grow in appreciation of nature and all the great opportunities Seattle Parks and Recreation has to offer. It is a regional park that features both active and passive recreation areas.
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July 11, 2012