DERWOOD, MARYLAND - The forested park rings with the sounds of high adventure, as young and old climb, zip and wobble around a high-adventure obstacle course through the tree canopy.
Eleven-year-old Christian Brower says when he’s up there, on the tall tree, he feels the wind.
“If you’re up really high, the platform is going to move so you shake a little like vibrating. And it feels great," he said.
It’s his first time to do this, and he’s loving every minute of it. “I mean you can see everything, except when you look down. It’s really scary.”
That’s where his mom’s expertise comes in. Karen Brower has visited similar aerial courses before. “Look straight ahead,” she advises him. “We don’t look down. Try to ignore the fact that the platform was swaying.”
The elementary school teacher believes outdoor activities like these will teach some important lessons to her son, who is starting middle school this year.
“I wanted to do something fun for us that would also help build his confidence going into a new school,” she said.
Facing the challenge
Throughout the two-to-three hour quest, participants test themselves by zipping down lines, crawling up rope ladders and working their way across suspension bridges. But they are well prepared to conquer these challenges.
Instructor Lindsey Barnhart gives everyone a 30-minute training session before they go out on the course. “I tell you all about your equipment, what you’re going you be using and how it’s used,” she explains. “Then, we slowly bring you up. They know that instructors could help them if they ever need any assistance out there on the course.”
Christian says it was very helpful. “If I didn’t have the training, I wouldn’t know what to do.”
This site in Rockville, Maryland is one of many courses across the U.S. run by Go Ape Treetop Adventures. Dan D'Agostino, who co-founded it six years ago, says the company encourages everyone to live life adventurously.
“I was living and working in London, England, and really interested in doing kind of my own business,” he recalls. “And came across this activity when I was in England and brought this experience to the U.S.”
He says participants don't have to be super athletic to go through the obstacles.
“Everyone can really complete the course as long as they can get up on a ladder. So we had everyone from 10-year-olds with their grandma and grandpa. We had a 93-year-old great-grandmother through the course.”
And there is something rewarding about being surrounded by nature.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to get away from our computers, get away from our TV screens and do something really challenging and interesting.”
The company runs the adventures in partnership with the National Parks.
“Every one of our courses is on park land, and we have a revenue share with our park partner,” he says. "So, when you come to Go Ape, a portion of your ticket is going back to support your local parks and the communities they serve.”
That's a good reason for many people to come back to the course again and again. Instructor Barnhart says challenging themselves is another reason.
“Everyone is so happy when they finish, especially people who come with the fear of heights. When they finish, they’re very accomplished. They feel very proud of themselves.”
Plus, it’s a good workout and a chance to bond with family and friends while enjoying a bird's eye view of the great outdoors.