Zip lining: Popular Costa Rican adventure comes to Midwest vacation spots

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Tree-top travel: Howard Newkirk, 70, of Boyne City, Mich., gets an upclose and personal view of Michigan's natural settings by ziplining along treelines. | Supplied photo

Zip lining suggestions

Below are a few recommendations from experts to prepare for your zip lining experience.

Wear comfortable clothing, such as jeans or shorts. Skirts are not permitted.

Athletic wear is not necessary.

Wear close-toed shoes that will not fall off when you zip line.

Do not bring any loose items that could be dropped while zipping,

such as sunglasses or headbands. Some sites allow cameras, but make sure you

have zipped pockets to put them in.

People with long hair are encouraged to tie their hair back.

No gum or candy allowed.

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The first time 70-year-old Howard Newkirk flew across a cable suspended 150 feet off the ground, he knew he was hooked (literally and figuratively).

“In a single year (my wife and I have) turned into zip line fanatics,” said Newkirk, of Boyne City, Mich.

Zip lining is an outdoor activity that takes riders across a suspended cable from one point to another. Originating in Costa Rica, zip lines are scattered throughout the U.S., including Michigan, which is now home to about 12 zip line sites. As summer approaches, these sites are gearing up for the season and are expecting larger numbers of riders than ever before.

“When the economy dropped, a lot of people weren’t doing big vacations,” said Mandie Cooke, a sales representative from Ropes Courses, Inc. in Allegan, Mich. “They were trying to stay local, to find more local things to do; so the industry has really just blown up.”

The zip lining experience begins with a short lesson on how to zip line. Certified zip line guides then help riders into a secure harness. From there, riders either walk or are transported to a platform on the tower or tree from which they will zip. Along this process, the rider is always hooked up to at least one cable at any point when they are off the ground. When the rider is ready, they step off the platform, about four stories high, and zip across the cable to the other side.

After zip lining for the first time, Newkirk brought along his wife Marcia, 66, as well as his grandkids and friends on subsequent trips. Marcia said she was nervous before her first zip. Her husband felt similarly.

“When you get up that high, it’s a bit daunting,” he said.

Tim Duthler, the experiences manager at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, said he often notices the concern of a first-time zip liner when they’re about to steps off.

“Then you see the joy and sense of accomplishment at the other end,” he said.

Todd Wright, co-owner of Wildwood Rush in Boyne City, where Newkirk zips, said he has seen people in their late 80s zip line, as well as people with prosthetic limbs. Wright is currently working on a project that will make zip lines accessible to people in wheelchairs.

Zip lines are often found in forests or other scenic locations, so the rider not only gets an adrenaline rush, but also enjoys the natural surroundings of the site. Wildwood Rush is located in a deciduous forest. The owners tried to disturb nature as little as possible when building the course, incorporating the zip lines into the “wildwoods” to enhance the naturalistic experience.

“It’s as pretty as northern Michigan gets,” Newkirk said. “You’re going through the trees up close and personal.”

Flying through the spring and summer foliage, “you feel like Tarzan and Jane,” Marcia Newkirk added.

Among some of the Michigan zip lining sites that are fairly close to the Chicagoland area are:


John Ball Zoo
1300 W. Fulton St.
Grand Rapids, Mich.
(616) 336-4301
The zip line at John Ball Zoo is suspended over the zoo’s aviary and waterfall and takes about 30 seconds to a minute to cross. The starting point of the zip line sits on the second highest point in Grand Rapids.
Length: 300 feet
Height: Four stories
Cost: $6
Requirements: Minimum 43 inches tall; must be between 65 and 260 pounds.

Ropes Courses, Inc.
1300 Lincoln Road
Allegan, Mich.
(269) 673-0016
Riders zip from one tower to another and back again at this Allegan site, which has been in business for 23 years.
Length: 150 feet
Height: 60 feet
Cost: $15 for one hour; $25 for two hours
Requirements: Minimum 48 inches tall; Maximum weight 300 pounds.


Wildwood Rush
2575 Boyne City Rd.
Boyne City, Mich.
(231) 582-3400
Located in a deciduous forest, Wildwood Rush provides the largest canopy tour in Michigan with a total of 11 zip lines. The entire course covers over 1.5 miles, including the zip lines and five suspension bridges. Riders can choose to take the full tour (about a two-hour ride across multiple zip lines) or zip down the last racing line, which is a much faster ride.
Length: 220-1,200 feet
Height: 80-150 feet
Cost: $75 for full canopy tour ($65 with a group of eight); $20 for shorter racing line
Requirements: Must weigh between 70 and 270 pounds.

Boyne Mountain Resort
Boyne Highlands:
600 Highland Drive
Harbor Springs, Mich.
(231) 526-3835

Boyne Mountain
One Boyne Mountain Road
Boyne Falls, Mich.
(231) 549-7256

Description: Launched in 2009, these two zip line sites provide similar experiences in different locations. The difference between the two sites is the layout of the course. The year-round sites offer two options: a two and a half hour guided zip line adventure tour, and twin zip rides. On the adventure tour, riders take a chairlift to the mountain top and ride a series of zip lines through trees and valleys down to the base of the hill. The twin zip ride is a single line ride that riders can ride one or two times. The resorts boast the longest single zip line ride in Michigan (how long is the ride??), with the longest cable reaching 1,300 feet.
Length: 200-1,300 feet
Height: 50 feet
Price: $64 for two-and-a-half-hour zip line adventure tour; $20-25 for twin zip ride
Requirements: minimum 3 feet tall; must be between 60 and 275 pounds
Note: Must call ahead for reservations.