“If you suddenly remember you’re afraid of heights, just don’t look down,” is the advice imparted to Go Ape! zip-liners before they suspend themselves onto steel wires and cut through the green canopy of Rock Creek Regional Park.
Of course, this was also preceded by a comprehensive, 30-minute safety course and simulation, in which adventurers are drilled in the most vital safety procedure: “Always stay attached.” The mantra is slapped onto safety signs at every crossing.
The Go Ape! course includes six zip-lines, each one shooting higher into the treetops than the last. To reach each push-off point, zip-liners are forced to traipse through a series of obstacle courses, such as ringed footholds, swaying tunnels and walking wires. Patrons must climb, crawl and crash (into a wall of netting) before they soar and inevitably ram into the mulch landing site. Some touchdowns are more graceful than others. Most walk away laughing, dirt splayed across their backs.
“It was amazing, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” first-time customer Gabriel Martino, who came to the course with his family, said. “It was definitely a challenge, mentally and physically. It was really fun.”
Exhilarated shrieks carry over from each corner of the course as people literally take leaps of faith into thin air (and across incoming traffic below). Notable features include the country’s first skateboard zip-line, two Tarzan swings and a narrow, double-helix bridge (the Twister). At certain crossroads, patrons have the option to choose a “moderate” or “extreme” path.
“My wife brought me here with our sons for my 57th birthday,” first-time customer Mike Martino said. “I didn’t have anything to prove, I didn’t know what was going to be happening, but once I got here I stepped up to the challenge and we did our training. It’s all very professional, we were given an access, only we could use the whole system, so it was safe. And we just slowly and steadily took each obstacle and each slide, if you will, to various elevations of trees and it’s exhilarating. You can rest, you don’t have to exert yourself, it’s not like you go out there and feel like you can’t go back. There’s always a place to rest, there’s plenty of water to drink. I was thoroughly thrilled. I’m glad to have completed it and I think my sons and I will remember this for the rest of our lives. And I thank my wife for all of that.”
Martino’s wife has adventured with Go Ape! before.
“She got over her fear of heights and falling and things like that,” Martino said. “It’s definitely a confidence builder and a trust builder and a memory maker.”
Everyone who ran the course said they would return for a repeat experience. Each zip-liner is awarded a certificate (and all the Go Ape! stickers they desire) that can be redeemed for a free shirt or water bottle upon their next treetop adventure.
As availability is limited, customers are advised to book reservations beforehand, either online at goape.com or by calling 800-971-8271. Zip-liners under the age of 18 (baboons) must be accompanied by an authorized adult guardian (gorilla); prices of admission are $37.45 and $58.85 respectively.
Across the road from the Go Ape! cabin is a stretch of green lawn where an impromptu game of soccer has broken out, accompanied by picnickers and hurled Frisbees and a picket sign that reads “Maryland Green Party.” Beyond that is a birthday party next to a swing set. To the left is the boating house and to the right an archery range. There are little boys on scooters and little girls in princess dresses ambling next to long rows of parked cars.
In the expanse of Rock Creek Regional Park’s almost 1800 acres, there are 18 picnic sites, 10 nature trails, and a lake that glistens for 75 acres. Customers are sent afloat in kayaks, canoes, pedal boats and row boats. The less adventurous can set sail on the Needwood Queen tour boat for a scenic 30-minute cruise.
Lake Needwood is a placid body bound by thick forestry, the stillness interrupted only by excited kayakers streaking through in fire-engine red vessels. Families outfitted in blue lifejackets can be seen gliding behind them in pedal boats, the boathouse’s most stable option.
Despite the peacefulness of the lake, recently there has been a push to exercise caution around the waters. According to a Montgomery County Parks press release, testing has revealed abnormal levels of the toxic substance microcystin in the lake and ingestion of the water may cause liver damage. Park officials have posted signs to alert residents of appropriate safety measures, such as keeping dogs on leashes and washing hands that come into direct contact with water. More information can be found at www.montgomeryparks.org.
The park is also home to the Meadowside Nature Center, the Live Raptor Exhibit and the Smith Environmental Center. Visitors of the Live Raptor Exhibit closely examine permanently-injured birds, specifically non-releasable predators, such as hawks and bald eagles.
On the athletic front, the park also offers volleyball courts, a golf course and an archery range.
“It’s a good way to concentrate and kind of just let everything else go for a while, but it’s also got that competitive aspect,” archer Emma Davey said.
Davey first started archery a year ago during her freshman year of college and practices at Rock Creek about once a week.
“It’s not necessarily the best for concentration, but for meeting other archers, this is one of the easiest ways to do it … archers are extremely friendly,” Davey said.