Standing on a platform 20 feet off the ground, about a dozen medical students stand behind leafy branches, waiting their turn to fly through the trees. The platform they are standing on is not fastened to the tree in any way. Instead, a series of tree-friendly cables and wedges using tension hold the platform into place. This is all a part of the plan, say Lynn Stoddard and her husband, Chris Kueffner.
"We wanted as low of an impact as possible on the forest," says Stoddard, a co-landowner who partnered with Outdoor Ventures to create The Adventure Park at Storrs, which consists of five aerial zip-line and climbing courses on five acres. "We want to help preserve the forest."
Safety and preservation of the forest were the main considerations when creating the park. Arborists inspected the trees. Diseased trees were cut down, and some were rejected as not stable enough, which led to redesigning the course several times.
"What is great about this park is we are not wrecking it to make it happen," says Kueffner. "... Nothing has to come down for this park to be built. The point is to have a deeper experience, and it takes a lot of real work and energy in order to complete these courses."
The park's courses range in skill levels from beginner to expert, with heights from 10 to 30 feet off the ground. However, to warmup, all guests must first participate in either the yellow or green beginners' courses, which are about 10 to 15 feet off the ground with swinging bridges to navigate. The yellow is the park's easiest course; the black diamond its most difficult. All five courses start on the same main platform in the center.
Special harnesses allow guests to climb independently and hook themselves into the zip lines without staff assistance (after a quick lesson, of course.) The staff supervises from the ground and only scales the trees if climber gets stuck or needs serious assistance.
"We did a lot of research when creating this park, and we even went to several other types of adventure parks," says Kueffner. "... We wanted to promote the philosophy of climbing independently. Also we want climbers to learn problem-solving skills of their own when going through these courses."
Depending on your skill level, courses can take 15 minutes or more. As difficulty increases, the layout of the courses becomes more complex with more obstacles and higher challenges. For instance, the black diamond course requires alot of strength, with climbers jumping from plank to plank about 30 feet off the ground. (There is an escape route in case a climber gets stuck.)
Jeri Hepworth, professor in family medicine at the University of Connecticut and a therapist, recently brought her students to the course for a stress-reduction day.
"It's the end of their second year in the three-year program," says Hepworth. "I've been noticing how they respond to stress. Some of them are either scared or remain focused [on the course] but it's a great team-building exercise."
"It was interesting to see how my colleagues responded to the challenges," says Nasser Mohamed, one of Hepworth's students, who are all doctors. "The way they deal with stress is how they deal with a crisis in the hospital. They all have different responses when facing a challenge."
Stoddard says she and her husband wanted to do something like this since they bought the land eight years ago. They wanted to manage the forest for recreational purposes, not develop it.
After meeting by chance Bahman Azarm, the founder of Outdoor Ventures Group, they created the partnership leading to the Storrs park. Bahman has created two other adventure parks: one in Bridgeport connected with the Discovery Museum; and the Sandy Spring Adventure Park in Maryland.
Kueffner says they have only used five out of the 10 acres approved by the town of Mansfield, and they hope to create more courses for next summer. Another idea is a low-ropes course for kids under 7.
Kueffner says the courses are designed for team- and confidence-building, and they liked that the courses are family-orientated and can be both a group and an individual activity.
"It is a lot of natural fun," says Anthony Wellman, the park's director of communications. "They are not using electronics or motor gases to create these courses. It's just good, healthy climbing fun that is human and nature power."
>>The Adventure Park at Storrs, 2007 Storrs Road, is open daily from 9 a.m. to dusk (around 7:30 p.m.) Open weekends only in spring and fall. Tickets allow for a two-hour climb; guests can do courses multiple times. Prices are $38 for guests 12 and over; $33 for ages 10 and 11; $28 for ages 7 to 9. Not recommended for kids under 7. Parking is free. Guests pay $28 the last two hours of the day. Large-group pricing is available. Information: storrsadventurepark.com and 860-946-0606.Copyright © 2015, CT Now