New residents of Kansas City sometimes don’t expect to find a lot of outdoor opportunities in the area, particularly on the Kansas side. “Sunflowers” and “flatter than a pancake” seem to be prevailing descriptions, clichés that can put the fear of boredom into the hearts of the newly arrived.
Admittedly, when I arrived a year ago, I didn’t expect to find outdoor activities beyond the usual run, bike, swim reiterations. But there are some hidden gems beyond the norm. For one thing, I never expected my first ever zip line experience would be in Bonner Springs.
Zip KC, the metro’s only locally owned zip line park, has nine zip lines on 140 acres of forest. The company offers a variety of tours, including a Hike & Zip that consists of a half-mile hike between four zip lines along the Kansas River.
“It’s surprising to even think that you’re in Kansas when you’re out there,” Jen Scott, marketing and event manager for Zip KC, said. Scott’s husband, Dan Scott, is a co-owner of Zip KC along with Brad McDonald, and Jeff Nuss. McDonald founded the company on leased land in 2013.
Zip line participants can enjoy gorgeous panoramic views of downtown KCMO and Lawrence from the Tower Tour, which consists of five zip lines that can reach speeds up to 50 mph. One of the zip lines is named Fern Gully because of the rainforest-like views from the top during the summer. The final line in the Tower Tour is named Tom Petty because it includes a zero gravity drop, referring to the rock singer’s classic 1989 hit, “Free Fallin.”
“The terrain is just beautiful. It’s not very Kansas-like,” said McDonald.
McDonald said he fell in love with the land while mountain biking, and felt that something needed to be built there. After a period of research and observation, he and his then-teenage children decided to go with a zip-lining park. McDonald then hired Valdo Lallemand, of Seattle-based Aerial Designs, to help him and four other men design and build the park.
“Kansas City didn’t have any true outdoor activities back then, so that was the main reason we were going to do it,” McDonald said. “Lots of good memories . . . it was a lot of hard work.”
My experience with the Ultimate Adventure Tour, which includes all nine zip lines, totaling more than one mile of gliding across a cable at high speeds, was nothing short of exhilarating with the breeze caressing my skin as I flew through the forest in 80-degree weather. The zip lines satisfied my craving for speed as a roller coaster enthusiast. For three short hours, I forgot I was only a half hour away from downtown KCMO.
“I think it’s really cool . . . people will visit for their vacation or their kind of getaway,” Cameron Snyder, one of my tour guides, said. “It’s your job to take them away from wherever they’re coming from or whatever they were doing, and put them into something for one or two hours and just let them escape and have fun and not worry about anything. I think that’s a really cool thing that we get to do.”
Bryce Loewenstein, my other tour guide, called it a “positive” environment. “Everybody gets along and you get to be outside all day and have a good day. You can’t beat that.”
Every tour includes two guides; one attaches participants to pulleys on the cable before sending them off to the other side, where the other guide waits to remove the pulleys.
Once all participants have properly secured their harnesses and helmets to themselves, they take a short ride to the first zip lines on a painted vintage Blue Bird school bus, which adds to Zip KC’s quirkiness. Before they get on the bus, participants have to write down nicknames for each other on the fronts of their helmets. No one knows what nickname they’ve been given until the tour guides shout them out while attaching their pulleys to the zip lines. The guides refer to each zip liner by their given nickname throughout the duration of the tour. My nickname was DC Comics character Lois Lane, journalist for the fictitious Metropolis newspaper and Superman’s love interest.
Safety is the tour guides’ priority. No one is forced to participate in all of the zip lines and all of the towers are accessible by car. A manager is always on duty for zip liners needing assistance.
People of all ages are welcome to zip line as long as they weigh between 70-275 pounds and meet certain health requirements. Everyone has to sign a medical waiver and check their weight on a scale before they can tour. Pregnant women cannot participate.
Tour guides encourage zip liners to get creative with their moves and poses while flying down the cables. I enjoyed kicking my feet as if I were riding a bicycle while laying my body horizontally, as well as dropping all of my weight down on the cables while splaying out my arms and feet.
I plan on going back to Zip KC with friends. Zip-lining may be more expensive than other activities in the metro, but it’s worth experiencing at least once. All that’s required is a sense of humor and a desire to have fun.
For information on zip line packages and to make a reservation, visit zipkc.com or call 913-214-9478.
Another zip line option in Kansas City is Go Ape Zip Line & Treetop Adventure at Swope Park. Visit goape.com/Location/Missouri/KansasCity for more information.