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Adventure Ziplines of Branson General Manager Jared Story demonstrates his company's zip line within Branson city limits.
Adventure Ziplines of Branson General Manager Jared Story demonstrates his company's zip line within Branson city limits.

The Year of the Zip

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For Ozarks’ attractions, it looks as if 2010 will be considered the year of the zip.

Last year, there was one zip-line course in the entire state of Missouri: Eagle Falls Ranch Zipline Adventures in Eminence, about 140 miles east of Springfield. This year, three zip-line courses opened in the Branson area, Arkansas’ first zip-line course opened in Ponca, about 25 miles southwest of Harrison, as did Caveman Zipline at Meramec Caverns in Stanton. Another Branson-area attraction, Shepherd of the Hills Homestead, added the Vigilante Extreme ZipRider to its repertoire.

Great inspiration
At Shepherd of the Hills, zip-line riders launch from the attraction’s Inspiration Tower.

“We looked for years for something to do with Inspiration Tower,” said Keith Thurman, Shepherd of the Hills’ night and outdoor theater manager, adding that attraction owner Gary
Snadon first rode a ZipRider in Utah at the end of 2009. “He came back and said, ‘This is going to be new to the area. We’re going to attract a new, thrill-seeking audience.’ Then lo and behold, they’re everywhere.”

Adventure Ziplines of Branson LLC General Manager Jared Story said the new zip lines didn’t catch him by surprise, primarily because he was one of the last to start building. The Branson course, at 501 N. Wildwood Drive, was built in seven weeks, he said.
Adventure Ziplines is the second course for Pigeon Forge, Tenn.-based Perry Smith Development.

Adventure Ziplines has seven lines. Its most popular product is a $40, 90-minute tour that covers five zip lines and three rope bridges. “You can see the 76 Strip from the top of tower one, then you head up the mountain,” Story said.

After launching June 15, Story said Adventure Ziplines has reached its summer goal of 200 rides per day, but traffic is now slowing as school begins.

Treetop views
In Ponca, Ark., where the Buffalo River Canopy Tour opened July 17, owner Mike Mills says the goal of 100 days of tours during its first year is at risk due to a late opening.

“But September and October are looking huge,” he said of the nearly three-hour tours that run twice a day. A full tour consists of 10 people, and the price is $89 a person.

Mills and his wife, who own and operate the Buffalo Outdoor Center, where the zip course is located, had been thinking about adding a tour for five years, after taking their first canopy tour in Costa Rica.

Buffalo Outdoor Center’s main revenue is in seasonal canoe rentals, he said.

“We have the greatest hiking trails in mid-America, but we were looking for a new revenue stream, and canopy tours fit perfectly,” he said.

The canopy tour suspends riders 40 feet above ground at treetop levels. Catering to the scenic views, Mills said the canopy tour attracts women’s groups, couples, grandparents and grandchildren, as well as corporate groups. The Buffalo Outdoor Center also draws from Wal-Mart’s home base in northwest Arkansas with corporate team building becoming a steady source of business, he said.

“The canopy tour is more of a social process,” he said. “By the end of 2-1/2 hours, even if you didn’t know the other people on your tour, you’re good friends. You’re Facebook buddies.”

All about adventure
Adventure Ziplines has managed to draw a steady crowd because of its location, Story said, noting it is the only site within Branson city limits.

Officials at Branson Zipline and Canopy Tours in Walnut Shade and Zip Line USA LLC, 3335 Highway 160 in Reeds Spring, did not return calls requesting interviews for this story by press time.

Springfield businessman Guy Mace and partners opened Branson Zipline and Canopy Tours in the spring. According to www.bransonzipline.com, prices range between $40 and $100.

Reeds Spring’s Zip Line USA also operates zip lines in Hermann and North Carolina. According to www.goziplineusa.com, prices range between $65 and $100.

Shepherd of the Hills’ Thurman said the Vigilante ZipRider, which costs $29 -– $20 for locals – is a ride versus a zip line. Guests are seated on the Vigilante, and its braking system is operated by the staff, he said.

The Vigilante, which reaches 50 miles an hour, is one of 11 built by Park City, Utah-based ZipRider, he said.

Added in conjunction with Shepherd of the Hills’ 50th anniversary, Thurman said the ride averages about half of its capacity of 400 people a day.

The Vigilante ZipRider also encourages a second ride, offering repeat rides for $20.

“We have a Jeep and trailer to load up people and take them back to Inspiration Tower at the end, and it’s a sight at how many get back and do it again,” he said.[[In-content Ad]]

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