Inquirer Editorial: Fairmount Park seems perfect for a zip line

A sample of the "zip line" that could be coming to Philadelphia.
A sample of the "zip line" that could be coming to Philadelphia.
Posted: May 04, 2013

A proposal to put a zip line in a five-acre section of Wissahickon Valley Park in Upper Roxborough sounds exciting. This creative way to help residents enjoy the city's wealth of parkland represents the kind of thinking many hoped to see when the city Recreation Department merged with the Fairmount Park Commission a few years ago.

The idea is getting some well-reasoned opposition. Some neighbors worry about traffic and parking, as well as losing the quiet contemplation found within the piece of the park they frequent. The Park and Recreation Commission is addressing these concerns, which shouldn't discouraged it from moving ahead.

Zip-lining is like moving on an aerial trail connected by ladders, rope bridges, and cables. The amusement was started by scientists studying tree canopies. But it was so much fun swinging between trees, that zip-lining soon became popular for amusement.

Participants are typically strapped into sturdy harnesses, and then taught how to control their speed and land safely. In the trees, they can see the forest from an entirely new vantage point and experience the rush of traveling above its floor. It is not for the faint of heart, but hardly as scary and bungee jumping.

A zip line also could generate new revenue for the city, which could be put back into the park.

The city says it would carefully control what it calls a "tree-top adventure." It won't allow a contractor to bolt platforms onto the beech and tulip poplar trees, or attach cables to them. And it would insist not only on forest maintenance, but also inspections by an independent arborist.

Park officials have looked at a zip line in Rock Creek Regional Park in Rockville, Md., which has had only a minor impact on the trees. Its operator pulls out invasive plants and nurtures the park's indigenous species.

The city has made Fairmount Park an even more pleasant experience by permitting a bicycle concession along the Schuylkill at the foot of Boathouse Row. Zip-lining seems like a logical next step, especially for a generation that grew up performing tricks on skateboards, snowboards, and BMX bikes. Some may be in their 40s or older now, but they still like to have fun.

Fairmount Park should be a place that provides various opportunities to have an enjoyable experience, whether that be rough riding on mountain bikes or taking a low-impact walk. With 1,800 acres and 57 miles of trails in the Wissahickon, surely there should be room for everyone.

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