Skamania Lodge Aerial Park captures spirit of adventure in the Gorge

Park Manager Greg Wilkins demonstrates what it's like to cross one of the more difficult bridges on this aerial obstacle course. It costs $69, plus tax, per person for two hours of activity in the trees. For more information, visit www.zipnskamania.com.

Those who visit Skamania Lodge have the same questions when they look up.

What is that? What are those logs, ropes, bridges, ladders and a canoe doing up in the trees? How are those people getting from one platform to another? And, how do I get up there and try it out?

On Aug. 5, Skamania Lodge Adventures opened a brand new Aerial Park for adults and children to enjoy. The cost is $69, plus tax, per person, for two hours of activity in the trees. You must be at least 6 years old and 4 feet tall to climb aboard. Children under the age of 8 must be accompanied by an adult. Groups of five or more can save $5 to $10.

Park Owner Shayne Large said this new adventure is all about freedom of choice. The obstacle course features 19 platforms and 22 elements of varying degrees of difficulty. There are points along the course where people can choose to take a different path. The park was designed by Synergo, a company in Tigard, Oregon, that specializes in building these kinds of courses.

“I think it’s the perfect mesh as far as what we do on the zipline and what we can offer to other folks looking for more of a challenging, ‘do-it-yourself’ kind of activity,” Large said. “You’re not just sitting and riding. You actually have to get engaged with the elements. Some of them put you to the test.”

The key is understanding the clipping mechanisms when transferring from one wire to the other. Each person has a helmet and a harness equipped with two clips hooked to a cable as they navigate through the course. You can unhook the first clip to advance to the next obstacle, but you can’t unlock the second clip until you secure the first clip on to the next cable. This prevents people from being completely unhooked while they are on the course.

“It’s a really good, state of the art, fall protection system,” Large said. “If you are soft and easy and nice to them, they are easy and nice to you back.”

Park Manager Greg Wilkins, and other monitors, are on the course teaching people how to use the clips properly. There are some elements close to the ground to practice on before heading up into the trees. The guides also provide tips and encouragement while watching others work through the obstacles.

“My favorite thing is seeing people overcome their fears. Fear of heights, fear of falling, whatever,” Wilkins said. “It’s fun seeing the look of accomplishment on people’s faces when they are finished.”

Although fun, challenging and rewarding, Wilkins stresses that this aerial park is not for everyone.

“It’s not a playground. There’s an inherent risk with the whole thing. There’s a potential of you getting hurt pretty bad, but we try to minimize this risk with our fall protection system,” he said. “Our guides and monitors do a good job of keeping an eye on everybody, and trying to keep everyone as safe as we can.”

Wilkins said there is no shame in calling for help. After an hour on the course, a child he was keeping an eye on froze up in fear on an obstacle and started to cry. Wilkins encouraged him to go back to the easy section and try one of the bridges.

“By the time his dad was done climbing the rest of the course, he was going back and forth with no hands on those bridges,” Wilkins said. “I didn’t want him to leave feeling defeated. It was a big thing for him. He ended up leaving with a smile on his face rather than crying because he couldn’t finish it all.”

Wilkins hopes people get to a point where they trust the equipment enough to put their bodies to the test without worrying about falling. He tells customers to take their time, have courage and enjoy the adventure.

“Come be a tree ninja,” Wilkins said. “Go zipping, stop to have lunch, and then come back out and hit the aerial park for a couple hours. It’s a nice challenge to add to a full day of adventure out here.”