@story MARCUS COKER
@images COURTESY OF LOCOROPES (TAKEN BY MICHELLE EDMONDS)
I felt like Tarzan. In training. I wasn’t swinging from the treetops just yet, but I was standing in them. I had a bird’s-eye view of the Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View, and it was breathtaking. For a moment, I felt myself relax and I thought I heard God speak. Time didn’t exist. I was one with creation. I was free.
As the wind picked up, I looked down forty-five feet and reconsidered my newfound freedom. Time may not exist, I thought, but gravity does. Tarzan was crazy. It was then that my legs began to shake. I told them to stop. They didn’t listen.
Just one hour before, I was standing in the Locoropes parking lot. I knew any activity that began with a legal waiver of liability had to be exciting. As I completed the paperwork, I noticed a gray-haired woman who had just finished the high-altitude ropes course that lay before me. She appeared to be alive and happy, which seemed promising.
I couldn’t wait to get started climbing trees, but safety comes first at Locoropes. I was tossed a harness to attach to my waist and legs. I stepped into the nylon belt, pulling the straps to make the fit tighter. One of the Loco Crew pulled the straps even more, and I gasped. Apparently, snug equals secure. The device gripped my waist and thighs and bunched my jeans in places you don’t want your jeans to bunch. Things that keep us safe, I thought, are often functional but rarely flattering.
I shrugged my shoulders and followed a family of seven to orientation. Our instructor, Luke, was outfitted with a bandana, a walkie-talkie, and multiple carabiners (spring-loaded metal rings used for fastening ropes together when climbing.) He had a ponytail and facial hair, and I imagined he ate a lot of granola. Standing in the middle of the forest, he looked like he knew what he was doing. He told us we would each be equipped with a personal protection system that would always be attached to something steadfast. He walked us through a miniature ropes course, which stood only a few feet off the ground. It allowed us to become familiar with the safety equipment and the course procedures. I was the last to finish, and as my feet returned to the earth, I was sold. I knew the afternoon would pass too quickly. I was so eager for the real thing, that I later forgot Luke’s advice: “Don’t look down, look forward.”
The adventure that lay before me was a mid-air obstacle course, built dozens of feet off the ground. My challenge was to move from tree to tree via tight ropes, cargo nets, and suspended logs, among other things. The last in line and I could barely wait my turn. I wasn’t the only excited one. The first of our group to start scampering through the trees was a four-year-old boy. That’s right, I said a four-year-old was dancing amongst the branches—like one of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys. It was his third time to complete the course. As I watched him move quickly and confidently, I knew I had to keep up.
Hell, I thought, the oldest to complete one of the Locoropes courses was a seventy-nine-year-old man. I was not about to be outdone.
For the most part, I wasn’t outdone, unless, of course, you count Andrew, the sixteen-year-old who was in line behind me. He joined our group late, never seemed off balance, and sometimes didn’t even use his hands. Granted, he was the owner’s son, but by comparison, I felt like a grizzly bear trying to play ping pong.
While I was busy getting my legs twisted amongst the ropes and wires, several other adventurers were shimmying across cables and leaping off tree-supported platforms. All the course elements are tree-to-tree, a feature that sets Locoropes apart from many other challenge courses, which often use telephone poles. Locoropes offers three treetop courses, totaling thirty-two different elements. Each course increases in difficulty, and all end with a zip line—a thrilling way to use a pulley, a cable, and the power of gravity to bring you back to earth.
Farther away, several other adventurers were at the climbing tower, a rock wall with several difficulty levels. From the top of the tower, which could also be reached by stairs, a young girl was celebrating her birthday as she shot 320 feet across the forest, suspended from the Flying Pig ZipLine, a motorized pulley and cable system. A balding man stood ready to experience the HotShot FreeFall, which is one step off a forty-foot platform and four seconds of gravity before reconnecting with the earth. Don’t worry, his landing was soft, thanks to a cable that slowed down his rate of dissension.
The courses, set up in the lush hilltops of Mountain View, bring in visitors hoping to spend a day with nature, and expand their horizons. “We offer team building and leadership development programs for Boy Scouts, for sports teams, for academic groups. We work with those groups individually to determine the program. We can even put them up overnight here at the cabins, do lunch for them,” said Dru Edmonds, operations manager.
What all the activities have in common is this: they have a sneaky way of building confidence. Dru said, “We encounter a wide range of people here every day, from those that breeze through and have a fantastic time to those that come to us knowing that this is going to be quite a challenge for them. We had a woman come in from Mountain Home just a couple of weeks ago. She came with her son, who’s a pass holder, and we see him all the time. It was her first time on the course, and she was at the element called The Runaway, which you might know as The Tarzan Swing. She actually had to turn around. She just could not get up the nerve to go off. But she came back just yesterday and went through the entire second course, and had a great time. She came back to confront that fear again, and just did wonderfully.”
Instilling confidence is one thing; safety is another. Dru said, “The perceived risk of a high-ropes course is much higher than the actual risk.” Locoropes uses a double locking security system, which means a climber is unable to unhook from one safety cable until he attaches to another. “They are almost unique to us, in that they’re used a little bit more overseas than they are here. It’s growing in popularity because it’s such a great system in keeping people safe, but right now I know they’re not being used in Arkansas, except by us,” said Dru.
Driving home, I considered the amount of time I spent in front of my computer, on my cell phone, how little time I spent outside with the people I care about. I made a note to change all that. I realized how much I’d learned in just one exhilarating day. And there was something inherently satisfying about feeling my legs shake beneath me—and continuing to move forward anyway. Despite the involuntary quivering of my legs, I felt like Tarzan. In a safety harness.
For more information, visit locoropes.com.
1025A Park Ave, Mountain View, Arkansas 72560
Four hours, one way, from Fort Smith
10am - 5pm, 7 days a week, March 1st - November 30th
Treetop adventures Thursday-Monday (closed Tuesday and Wednesday)