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Press reporter braves the popular Bays Mountain ropes course

Amanda Marsh • Feb 24, 2012 at 10:17 PM

KINGSPORT — It’s funny how life can imitate lyrics, because I am convinced that Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Tightrope” was playing as I wobbled on a thin steel cable about 35 feet above the ground.

And before my mind completely wandered into thoughts of electric guitars and the cold, hard ground hidden under a layer of crunchy leaves, Rob Cole reached out his hand to help pull me to the next small platform.

The two of us were suspended by rope and cable on the “Hawk’s Nest” portion of Bays Mountain Park’s Adventure Course. The interactive ropes course will open for its second season next month with the aim of teaching teamwork and communication to each group that braves the high wire. Some may challenge themselves to complete the two-level high course, while others will choose a view of tree trunks instead of tree tops in ground-level challenges like “The Flying Fox” and “Wild Turkey.” The low course elements are designed for all ages as well as those with disabilities.

“Just getting people up here is a huge deal,” said Rob, the operations coordinator at Bays Mountain Park. “When they realize ‘I can overcome this,’ it’s a tremendous confidence boost.”

I will say that the urge to turn around and stumble back down the rope wall did cross my mind for a brief second when we made it to the first platform, but I was determined to get the scoop. This wasn’t something I could write about standing on the ground.

Apparently, my reaction was normal. Rob said he’s witnessed everything from fear to obvious excitement. And no matter how uncomfortable or resistant participants are to go across the “Hawk’s Nest,” no negative speech is allowed on the adventure course. It’s all about encouragement.

When I got terribly off-balance toward the end of the first exercise and my bottom fell below by feet, I thought Rob was going to have to come out and pull me back up on the cable, but somehow his patience and reassurance gave me the courage to swing right back up there.

Ignorantly, I told myself that this whole experience was going to be just like Adventure Mountain at Dollywood, one of the park’s newer attractions with a concept seemingly similar to Bays Mountain Park’s Adventure Course. At some point, when I realized I was surrounded by tall trees and not fake, concrete ledges, it became clear that this was the real outdoors experience that the theme park was trying to recreate.

“People love adventure and we’re teaching them an appreciation for the outdoors,” Rob said. “Lots of families spend a lot of time in front of the TV and computers. We’re trying to change their mind.”

The Bays Mountain Park staffers who run the adventure course were overwhelmed by its success last year. All kinds of groups from churches to corporations and sports teams requested to use the facility, and Rob is predicting that the same may happen again this year.

Those thrill-seekers who are ready to put on a harness and helmet and trust their fate to a rope attached to a cable via metal “lobster claws” should be sure to reserve a time slot early. Groups must consist of at least 10 people and the course is designed for ages 11 and up. There’s also a 250-pound weight limit.

“The goal is to offer this to as many folks as possible, with a fresh, new way to get visitors (to the park),” Rob said.

If a test of strength and balance on the “Hawk’s Nest” is out of the question, taking a 300-foot ride down “The Flying Squirrel” zip line may sound more exciting. The zip line is the final reward for those who make it across the adventure course, or Bays Mountain visitors can skip the tough part and zoom downhill for about $10. Rob said he’s seen a 3-year-old ride tandem on the zip line with a parent, as well as a 93-year-old who fearlessly scooted off the platform and let the attached rope guide him to safety.

The rush from the ride and ropes course was intense. By the end of it all I was ready for my nerves to return to a normal level of activity. Since I was still a little shaky from the experience, it was tough to climb up the padded landing area, but I made it through in one piece.

From now on, Stevie Ray’s “Tightrope” will take on a very literal meaning and will remind me of the day I conquered the “Hawk’s Nest.”

A variety of packages are available for groups ready to tackle Bays Mountain Park’s Adventure Course. Prices vary depending on how much of the course a group wants to utilize. To make a reservation, call 230-6357 or 229-9447.

The zip line will be open Tuesdays and Wednesdays beginning in March. Park staffers will take people up to “The Flying Squirrel” at 3 and 4 p.m. Rob encourages zip liners to call ahead to make sure it will be open and to arrive at least 30 minutes early in order to get all the proper safety equipment.

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