Beaufort News

At-home adventure: Backyard zip lines take off

Nicole Mattson, 8, daughter of Darren Danielson's friend Roger Mattson, tries out the zip line set up on Danielson's property outside of Duluth, Minn. When the Danielson family decided to build a zip line on their property, they thought big — and high. Danielson, an experienced tree trimmer, worked with his 13-year-old son, Nels, and Mattson to install the 400-foot zip line.
Nicole Mattson, 8, daughter of Darren Danielson's friend Roger Mattson, tries out the zip line set up on Danielson's property outside of Duluth, Minn. When the Danielson family decided to build a zip line on their property, they thought big — and high. Danielson, an experienced tree trimmer, worked with his 13-year-old son, Nels, and Mattson to install the 400-foot zip line. The Associated Press

After gliding through the treetops on a cable at a park in the Adirondacks, Holly Swanson wondered if she could replicate the fun in her parents' backyard.

Turns out it was easy, she said. After a little online research, she installed a 250-foot zip line between two trees on their property in Brunswick, Maine.

"You can drop into the pond, which is a lot of fun," said Swanson, who lives in Albany, N.Y.

The popularity of zip lines or canopy tours at vacation spots in the United States and overseas has created a growing market for at-home versions, said Aaron Sleadd, sales and marketing manager for Sleadd Adventures, in Grants Pass, Ore.

"We hear from a lot of people who go on vacation and say, 'Hey I would like to have one of these in my backyard,'" said Sleadd, who sells zip-line kits and safety equipment at Ziplinegear.com. Prices start at $150, he said.

Zip-line riders strap themselves into harnesses and let gravity and a pulley slide them from one end o line to the other.

A variety of companies sell zip-line kits and the equipment to install them. Installation requires tools to anchor the line and to adjust the tension. The key is getting the cable tight. Sleadd's company sells the tools and refunds customers' money if they return them in good condition.

Backyard enthusiasts usually stretch the steel cable between trees, Sleadd said. The length of the line determines the height at the start. Sleadd's company sells a lot of 150-foot and 200-foot lines, which need to be installed at least 15 feet above the ground.

Lou Manfredini, Ace Hardware's Home Expert, said he installed a zip line at his home in less than two hours. "It's so simple," he said. "It's something that's fun and unique."

Before adding a zip line, however, homeowners might want to consult with their insurance agents, said Jim Whittle, assistant general counsel for the American Insurance Association. Adding a zip line might change "the character of the property and the risks associated" with it, he said.

To minimize risk, consider hiring a professional to install the zip line, suggested James Borishade of the Association for Challenge Course Technology in Deerfield, Ill., which has set standards for zip-line installation and inspection since 1994.

Zip lines have been a big seller for Steven Fischel, president of the online toy store FantastyToyland.com, in Long Island City, N.Y.

"Parents are looking to get kids outside for some good old-fashioned fun," he said.

When the Danielson family decided to build one on their property outside of Duluth, Minn., they thought big -- and high. Darren Danielson, an experienced tree trimmer, worked with his 13-year-old son, Nels, and family friend Roger Mattson to install a 400-foot line. The starting point is about 60 feet high and anchored in a large white pine tree.

"The first 200 feet goes over tree tops," Darren Danielson said. "The last 200 goes down in the woods."

Danielson, a TV newscaster, sees the zip line as a way to create exciting family time.

"My kids love adventure -- especially in the outdoors," he added. "This is fun, adventure and excitement all rolled into one."

Nels, who had a zip-line birthday party last year, called the experience "amazing."

"It gets going really fast," he said. "There's always a lot of screaming."

Riders zoom down the line at about 25 mph, his father added.

"It's pretty exhilarating and fun -- yet safe," the elder Danielson said.

Danielson, a recreational tree climber, incorporated some of the safety gear he already owned into the zip line. In addition to the $500 kit, he also bought some helmets and other equipment designed to keep riders from falling off the line. He estimates he spent less than $1,000 on the setup.

Swanson, a pediatrician, also has taken precautions. She installed a special braking system that prevents riders from hitting the tree at the end of the line.

She likes the zip line, which cost about $400, because it's something her 5-year-old daughter and 78-year-old mother can both enjoy. "It's a nice backyard addition," she said.

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