By Jennifer Audette
If you could be as high and free as the birds, would you? Could you?
Might be worth a try. TreeHoppers Aerial Adventure Park in Dade City wants to give you that sensation. The rest, however, is up to you.
“Once you take that first step, it calms you to focus on the challenge… so that you don’t know if you’re five feet or 50 feet in the air,” said Cary Tear, general manager of TreeHoppers Aerial Adventure Park. “You’re focusing on the challenge, so fear starts to melt away.”
At TreeHoppers, guests are invited to attempt one of eight courses. But most don’t stop after one. The adrenaline rush of balancing, climbing, ziplining and successfully traversing from tree to tree is addicting.
Take Becky Faulkner, 45, of Hudson, who describes herself as deathly afraid of heights.
“It seems nice so far. We’ve done our first course,” her husband Gerald Faulkner, 50, said proudly as they jumped on an intermediate course.
As one would expect, the safety factor is code red here at TreeHoppers. Your harness tucks under your legs, buckles around your waist and buckles around your chest. On a course, you are never unattached to the wire system, so even if you lose your footing on something as simple as stairs, you won’t fall. The harnesses use a complex system of tweezles and caribiners to ensure you are never unconnected.
The State of Florida regulates the park, requiring daily inspection reports as well as semi-annual ratings and testings.
Learning about the harness system takes about 20 to 25 minutes, during which your harness is put on, you learn about activating the tweezles and you have a chance to test out the system under the supervision of a course monitor.
After that, the challenge is all your own.
“We do not pressure you to the finish line,” Tear said. “It’s all self-motivation.”
Children who do not have adults doing the courses with them will have a course monitor accompany them. Certain courses are designed for those ages 5 to 9.
“I was searching for something different to do with the kids,” said Danielle Tarolla, a Hudson resident who was doing the courses with her 5-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. “Something more than a bowling alley, something more adventurous.”
Opening a child’s mind is part of the fun. “I like to try to find a way around things and ways to do new stuff,” said her son Nathaniel Delucco.
Each course presents its own challenges, or “elements,” as they are called. An element can include walking between trees while balancing on a system of ropes and boards and pulleys, climbing a ladder, or ziplining between two platforms.
The elements are as much psychological challenges as they are physical. Overhead, I hear an older gentleman grunting (what you might hear in a weight room) as he musters the spirit and strength to finish a tightrope-like element.
Only about eight patrons have been able to complete the Double Black course, which entails a beginner’s course, an intermediate course and the Black Storm course, ending with a rappelling drop to Earth.
Because of the mental and physical stamina required, the courses present a great opportunity for team building within organizations and companies. The Tampa Bay Moms bloggers were cheering each other on this particular Sunday afternoon.
“This is great,” said Jessica Cook, marketing coordinator for Tampa Bay Moms Blog. “The ziplines especially. It’s a good workout, too. I could see bringing my older kids.”In addition to the aerial courses, the park offers picnic tables and birthday party options. It is considering partnering with local cyclists to put on an event in the future.
In addition to the aerial courses, the park offers picnic tables and birthday party options. It is considering partnering with local cyclists to put on an event in the future.
“A lot of people come out here, with their fear of heights or not really being comfortable with themselves,” Tear said. “Once you’re locked in, in a harness, and all their equipment attached to lifelines, it just washes away their fear.”
When you go…
When: Open 8 a.m.to 7 p.m. daily.
Where: 27839 Saint Joe Road, Dade City.
Contact: 813-381-5400, treehoppers.com.
Tips: Wear closed-toe shoes, pull hair back and wear gym attire.
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