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Adventurous visitors to Allegheny County's North Park will soon have opportunity to go ape

| Saturday, March 23, 2013, 9:34 p.m.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Mike Staley, Construction Manager with Go Ape, demonstrates part of the new tree top adventure course in North Park Friday, March 22, 2013. The interactive 2-3 hour adventure will feature Tarzan swings, bridges, rope ladders, tunnels and 5 zip lines. They hope to open it in mid April.

Visitors to North Park will have the chance to unleash their inner Tarzan starting in April.

Construction should be finished next month on Go Ape North Park, a tree-top zipline course, said Dan D'Agostino, managing director of Derwood, Md.-based Adventure Forest LLC, which will build and operate it under a partnership with the county.

Think of the tree-top course “as a giant obstacle course up in the trees that provides a really unique outdoor experience,” D'Agostino said.

The course will be between Pierce Mill Road and the tennis courts to the east of the boathouse, part of which will be converted into a restaurant and bar by the owners of South Side-based Over The Bar Bicycle Cafe. The bar and restaurant are still in the planning stages, according to county officials.

“We're very excited about these projects,” said Andrew Baechle, the county's park director. “They're not only a welcome addition to North Park that we believe will draw people from outside the county, they are part of the effort to create public-private partnerships to improve our parks.”

The zipline course will be from 35 to 50 feet off the ground and feature 35 obstacles that include rope bridges, Tarzan swings, trapezes and five ziplines, D'Agostino said.

“So if a person is more adventurous, they can take a more difficult route, or if they want to, they can stick with something a little easier,” he said.

“We've even had a 92-year-old grandmother go through the course at one of our other locations,” he said. The company operates Go Ape courses in Williamsburg, Va., Rockville, Md., and Indianapolis, Ind.

A “vision team” assembled by Fitzgerald to improve the county parks system recommended the addition of the tree-top adventure course and the restaurant.

While the county has been able to add recreational features, such as snow tubing in Boyce Park and a BMX bicycle track in South Park, finances limit the ability to do more, Baechle said.

“Allegheny County has over 12,000 acres of park land — it is a huge amount, and we are barely able to scratch the surface of opportunities with our own staff,” said Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County executive.

“Partnering with others to offer commercial enterprises like restaurants or zip lines, or other specialized operations, allows us to extend our offerings and provide additional features that our residents and visitors alike can enjoy,” Fitzgerald said.

Children from 10 to 17 would pay $35 to use the course and people 18 and older would pay $55. Completion of the course takes between 2 and 3 hours, including a 30-minute training session. Hours and days of operation will vary by season and the weather.

Go Ape has a five-year contract with the county, which will receive $20,000 in rent the first year and $40,500 by the last year, D'Agostino said. The company will build and operate the course, provide liability insurance, and handle marketing and promotion.

Under the agreement, the county will get $36,000 in rent the first year and $60,000 by the end of the fifth year. Rent for the remaining five years will be $69,000.

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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