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Will zip lines bring extreme adventurers to Niagara Falls?

Thrill seekers who prefer amped-up interactions with nature now have a new reason to visit the US-Canadian border.

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    In this July 19 photo provided by WildPlay Ltd., tourists suspended above the water from zip lines make their way at speeds of up to 40 mph toward the the mist of the Horseshoe Falls, on the Ontario side of Niagara Falls. The overhead cables have evolved from a fun way to explore jungle canopies to trendy additions for long-established outdoor destinations.
    Kien Tran/WildPlay Ltd./AP
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Zip lines have arrived at Niagara Falls.

A gorge near the natural wonder saw the opening of the WildPlay Element Parks attraction on Wednesday, with riders traversing some 2,200 feet of lines strung across its Canadian side at speeds topping 40 miles per hour. With the thrill ride's unveiling, the falls join other zip line sites such as West Virginia's New River Gorge, California's Catalina Island, and Alaska's Denali in erecting an attraction anathema to meditations over the sites' grandeur – but sure to draw visitors eager for a more adrenaline-inducing experience.

The architects of the ride call it a crucial tool for pulling a broader swath of the public to Niagara Falls. "We can't make these into museums," Tom Benson, co-founder and chief experience officer at WildPlay, said in an interview with the Associated Press. "We have to keep the general public – the folks that these places have been set aside for – we have to keep them motivated to get out there."

"How do you take a teenager and get them away from a game console to something that is going to capture their imagination?" he added.

One rider of a zip line at Lake George in New York's nearby Adirondack Mountains told the AP afterward that it had enhanced his appreciation of the gorge itself.

"You feel all this air rushing past you, it's this great almost roller coaster-esque feeling," said Quillan Brady. "But really, what I think makes it is looking around and seeing all this natural New York beauty."

Brandon Loople, a guide at the Niagara Falls zip line, told local news station WIVB4 that at the outset the sight of the gorge intimidated some riders.

"There's a lot of people that come up to the top and they're super excited, they're super ready to go. Then they get strapped up and all of the sudden their voice changes. They start shaking," he said. "But once they get through the ride, they get back up to the top, the only thing that anyone’s been able to say so far is 'Oh my God, that was amazing! It was the best thing that I've done. Thank you so much for that experience.'"

Not everyone is as thrilled about the new ride at Niagara Falls. A Canadian grass-roots conservationist group, Preserve Our Parks, reluctantly backed its construction after meeting with developers last summer, partly because the group was concerned it was earning a reputation for being "too negative." But now members say they felt misled by the attraction's builders.

"The tower [already] there was not a bad looking building – a structure you could climb up and look out over the falls. Then all of a sudden it gained about another storey in height, which is basically just steel and cables," group spokesman James Bannister told the Niagara Falls Review.

Mr. Bannister says the group was told by developers that the visibility of the zip line "from our side of the river … [is] going to be minimal. You won't be able to see much of anything."

Now that the ride is up and running, he added, "it looks much worse 'for real' than what we were led to believe."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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