By Arielle Dollinger
In one of the few forested areas left in Wheatley Heights, there is a path. There is gravel and then there are woodchips and then there are trees.
In the trees sit wooden platforms, connected by wooden bridges, tight-rope-like wires, zip lines and ropes.
The Adventure Park at Long Island has made its home on about 5 acres at the Henry Kaufman campgrounds and will welcome its first visitors on Saturday.
Bahman Azarm returned from a trip to Switzerland with the idea to bring the “adventure park” concept to the United States. At the time, he was working in construction with a building company. The workers from the building company followed him when he decided to start building the parks.
Today, Azarm is the president of Outdoor Venture Group, LLC, which now owns and operates seven adventure parks in America.
“It’s still a pretty new concept to the United States, but it’s an old idea in Europe,” said Anthony Wellman, communications director of The Adventure Parks of Outdoor Ventures. “There are 2,000 of them in Europe and there are only about 60 of them in the United States.”
In France, some call them “accro-branches” or “acrobatics in trees.” In Germany, it’s “klettergarten,” or “climbing garden.”
The Adventure Park at Long Island marks the island’s first and the seventh that Azarm and his team have created.
The Henry Kaufman campgrounds are a sort of landlord, Wellman noted, not partners. The company partners with a husband and wife team, Brian and Lorrie Funtleyder, and typically builds on the land of a nonprofit entity that has abundant land and good trees.
Outdoor Venture Group, LLC, will share a portion of revenue with Henry Kaufman camps, but will run the park on its own.
Azarm himself designed the harness and gloves customers use after discovering a lack of commercially-available equipment that would lend itself to the “unique” activities of the park. The gloves are called “Treekkers,” for “trekking in the trees,” Wellman explained.
In his harness design, Azarm employed a German invention called the “carabiner.” The carabiner, a sort of safety clip, is designed for connection to a safety cable. Each harness features two clips that cannot be unclipped at the same time.
“It’s designed so you can’t defeat it,” Wellman said.
The park’s “elements” – zip lines, tightrope-like wires, wooden bridges, etc. – are constructed in Connecticut and shipped to the location.
The bridges between tree platforms are called “challenge bridges” or “elements.” Together, the elements make up a “course” or a “trail.” Multiple trails make up the park.
Yellow trails bring climbers between 10 and 15 feet above the ground. Black trails could be as high as 50 feet off the ground. But each climber must work his or her way up to black, starting with the introductory course.
“Even if you’re Tarzan, we’ll ask you to start on an introductory-level course,” Wellman said. “[An introductory course] shows you what it’s all about, and it shows you what it’s all about in a way that most people can handle.”
Introductory yellow, then green, then blue, then black, then double black.
According to Azarm, there are two ways to build a course like this.
“One works like a golf course, and the other one works like a ski area,” he said.
The French build the golf course way. Like successive holes in a golf game, each adventure park course is increasingly difficult. A ticket grants one trip through, and participants stop when the level becomes too difficult.
“We build it; we call it the Swiss system,” Bahman said.
The main platform, he explained, is like a gondola at a ski resort. The customer decides when to get off of the gondola – in other words, which course to take.
At The Adventure Park, the customer arrives at the starting platform and chooses a course.
“It gives you flexibility and it gives you the choices,” Azarm said. “Most people want to stay on the yellows and the greens and they’re perfectly happy…because it’s challenging enough.”
Each course takes between 15 and 30 minutes to complete, Wellman noted. Tickets, sold for different prices according to age, allow climbers three hours in the park.
The message, Wellman said, is about nature.
“Our parks are designed to show people how beautiful and wonderful it is to enjoy recreation in the outdoors,” he said. “We design our parks to make the most of the forest. We work naturally with the forest… We don’t need motors or we don’t need gasoline engines or anything like that, so it’s all human and gravity power.”
Just “quiet” and “wonderful,” he said.
To build the “quiet” and “wonderful” park, Azarm and his team marked 80 or 90 trees for examination by an arborist. After examination, the team found that only three of the marked trees were unusable.
Platforms are not bolted into the trees; they are secured with wedges and force-against-force. Cables are not strapped directly to trees; there are surrounding straps.
“An amusement park gives you a thrill, and that’s great,” Wellman said. “But we give you a thrill and we also give you something that stays with you. We give you a feeling of accomplishment.”
The park, he said, is great for self-esteem building, team building and exercise.
“It’s problem solving, it’s a little bit of sports, it’s a little bit of physical exercise, it’s a lot of fun,” he said. “It almost chokes me up sometimes when I talk about it because it’s just so positive.”
At the Long Island facility, children ages 7 and above can climb. Parents must accompany their children – two children to one adult – but need not necessarily climb with them.
The park is set to open on Saturday, June 21. For hours and ticket prices, visit Longislandadventurepark.org or Climbli.org.