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Treetop zip lines challenge mind and body in Bemis Woods

Sunday, June 26, 2016
Chicago Tribune
by Annemarie Mannion

Melvin Hall was looking for a mental challenge, he found one in the leafy treetops of a suburban forest preserve.

Sliding to the mulchy ground on a zip line, Hall of Chicago completed all five stations of Go Ape, a new treetop adventure course near Western Springs, in Bemis Woods South, part of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.

Although participants on the course that features five zip lines are harnessed so they cannot free fall to the ground, Hall of Chicago said it's easy for the mind to overlook that safety feature when staring down the length of a zip line while perched in a tree, dozens of feet from the ground.

"It's a play on the mind," he said. "You really have to dig deep to muster up the courage."

The course, which opened on Saturday has a total of 2,837 feet of zip lines. It also features a double Tarzan-style swing that enables two people to swing together 30 feet in the air and land in a cargo net, a series of rope ladders and bridges, spider webs and trapezes. Forty of the obstacles are located 40 feet high in the forest canopy.

Standing on a platform as he waited to slide down the first zip line, Gene Jenke of La Grange was excited.

"We're here for the challenge," said Jenke, who was tackling the course with his daughter, Jenna, 11. "We wanted to be one of the first ones to do it."

The treetop adventure course was installed by Go Ape, a provider of zip line and adventure courses, at a cost of $500,000.

"This was done at no cost to the forest preserves," said Lambrini Lukidis, a spokesperson for the Forest Preserves of Cook County. "Go Ape runs the zip line and we get a percentage of the sales."

Bemis Woods is the only place in Illinois where visitors can experience zip lines, high ropes and other challenges of the treetop obstacle course, she said.

The site was selected because while it is a lovely wooded area, it doesn't have any particular elements that needed to be preserved.

"This was not a high quality nature area," Ludikis said. "We didn't have to disturb any habitat."

Although there is an upper weight limit of 285 pounds, the course is designed so that nearly anyone can do it.

"It's absolutely easy for anyone. It's not intimidating," Lukidis said.

Ginelle Enrietti, 23, of Tinley Park, might disagree somewhat.

"It was a lot harder than I expected," said Enrietti, who completed the course with her friend, Kaitlyn O'Dwyer, also 23, and from Tinley Park.

The two said there were options along the course to do easier versions of particular tasks in order to proceed. They also appreciated the pre-course training sessions that lasts about 20 to 30 minutes and is provided by Go Ape instructors.

"It was scary, but they show you want to do," O'Dwyer said.

"We show them how to use the equipment and get them comfortable," said Danny Solis, a Go Ape instructor. "We go with them on the first two stations and then they're on their own. But there is no way they could fall because they're strapped in."

The course gets progressively more difficult. Each of the stations ends with a zip line to the ground where a participant can decide if they want to go further or stop. The cost to do the course is $57 for adults and $37 for children. It takes two to three hours to complete.

In case of an accident on the course, the police of the Forest Preserve District of Cook County would respond, along with emergency responders from Western Springs.

"If it's anything police-related then the forest preserve police respond because they have ATVs and can get better access. Then they'd contact us," said Alfredo Quinones, a dispatcher with the Western Springs police.

Waiting to take her first step on to the course, Anna Maliwat, 35, of Hainesville, Ill. said the more thrills on the course, the better.

"We wanted it to have sky diving at the end," said Maliwat, who was doing the course with her friend, Mary Lou Cabrera, 34, of Austin, Texas.

The course is intended for individuals, as well as groups to do.

"I think it's challenging for yourself personally and it would be a great bonding experience for a group," Lukidis said.

On that point, Enrietti, who felt exhilarated at making it through, would fully agree.

"Once you finish it you feel you can do anything," she said.

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Copyright © 2016,Chicago Tribune

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