Missouri's first commercial zipline canopy tour lands in Eminence

Tuesday, July 21, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Brandon Atchison listens as Eagle Falls Ranch Zipline Adventures owner Shawn Nye explains how he should hold the pulley with one hand while using the other to brake as he slides down the zipline in Eminence, Mo.

EMINENCE — On any given day, a contraption with two cables and a set of lanyards, carabiners and pulleys, is the only thing keeping visitors from falling straight into an Ozark forest.

It may seem extreme, but it's just a routine thrill for Shawn Nye, 37, and his crew at Eagle Falls Ranch Zipline Adventure in Eminence, Mo.

“It was really exciting and eye-opening being up that high and going so fast," said Kris Faucet, a recent visitor. "My knees are still shaking.”

If You Go

Tour packages

1. Explorer Tour (easy): $35  per person
Includes runs 1, 2 and 3 (approximately 2,500 feet)
2. Voyager Tour (moderate): $40 per person
Includes runs  2, 3, 4 and  5 (approximately 3,000 feet)
3. Challenger (challenging): $45 per person
Includes the entire course (approximately 4,000 feet)

Hours of operation

Eagle Falls Ranch is open from May to October. Tours typically start at the top of every hour. Normal business hours are seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Each tour takes about an hour.

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Faucet was the 1,000th person to visit and ride the zipline after it opened on Memorial Day.

Eagle Falls Ranch claims to offer Missouri’s first commercial zipline canopy tour with five lines, nine crew members and a plan to give visitors a new kind of adventure.

Ziplines, also known as flying foxes, aerial runways and zip slides, consist of a pulley suspended on a series of cables mounted to trees or poles. The cables are arranged on an incline that allows riders to travel by gravity from tree to tree.

The lines can be low and short — more often intended for children — or very high, long and fast. For the taller structures, such as the one at Eagle Falls, riders strap into safety harnesses attached to the pulley system. They stand on a treetop platform between the cables. 

Then, they jump.

While it is unclear who invented the commercial zipline for canopy tours, the idea began with the Tyrolean traverse, a method used by climbers for decades to cross through free space in the mountains.

Biologists Donald Perry and John Williams were among the first to develop the contraption in Costa Rica during the 1980s. They modified a ski lift into an aerial tram that could carry them between treetops without a need to return to the ground.

Through their experimentation the modern zipline was born.

Today ziplines are being used for both personal use — usually in playgrounds and backyards — and commercial use. The lines can be found on six continents and are most common in rainforest areas. 

Costa Rica and Hawaii are famous for zipline canopy tours that take visitors into remote jungle areas. The first commercial zipline in the U.S. was built in Maui in 2002.

Promoted as entertainment with breathtaking views and thrilling rushes, professional ziplines can reach speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. The fastest recorded line, the only one claiming speeds of 100 mph, is the Zip 2000 located in Sun City, South Africa. This zipline is a record 6,561 feet long suspended at a height of 918 feet. 

The Zip Rider at Icy Strait Point in Juneau, Alaska, is a comparable ride. With cables 5,300 feet long and 1,300 feet high, the line travels at 60 mph.

Missouri's new zipline at Eagle Falls Ranch is three hours from Columbia and St. Louis, and five hours from Kansas City in the so-called canoe capital of the world. Eminence is known for its year-round float trips on the Jack’s Fork and Current rivers. 

While on a float trip in Eminence Nye, a builder and developer, became interested in experiencing a canopy tour of the Ozarks for himself.  Nye, who is from Farmington Mo., bought a piece of riverfront property in Eminence in October 2007. 

Originally intended as a vacation home, Nye left Farmington after the decline in the housing market in 2008 and turned the 25-acre property into both his home and business.

Initially, he considered using it as a campground or site for backpack and horseback trips. 

“The turning point was in March," he said. "I remember being at a bar in town, talking with a buddy about ideas for a business. He suggested building a zipline, and a light bulb went off in my head. I started researching the possibility the next day." 

He contacted Adventure Experiences Inc., a Texas company that specializes in challenge courses. The company sold Nye safety equipment, trained his crew and built the zipline, a five-part system that covers seven acres, spans 4,000 feet in length and reaches heights of 80 feet.  

Since it opened eight weeks ago, Eagle Falls has carried more than 1,000 visitors through the trees. 

“I didn’t expect the demand and the lengths people would travel to do this," Nye said. "The numbers of people who are traveling three hours and more to do this — I never expected it."

To ride, there are no age or weight requirements, unless a person cannot safely fit into a harness. Although harnesses come in a range of sizes, Nye gave a general weight guideline of 70-275 pounds. 

For safety precautions, the operation is restricted to those who can attest to a suitable fitness level on a liability form. Sandals and jewelry are prohibited, and hair must be tied. No cell phones or cameras are allowed during the ride.

It is also not recommended for anyone afraid of heights.

Yet swinging among trees 80 feet above the ground does provide a thrilling ride for most visitors.

From the moment the crew straps on the harness, to the first step off the platform and the drop into the void, there is a definite rush of adrenaline.

“The best thing about this job is seeing how happy people are and smiling," Nye said.  The way people come off and say how this is the most fun thing they’ve ever done."


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Anna Codutti July 21, 2009 | 3:41 p.m.

I just wanted to say this is a really well-written article that I was captivated by till the last word. The photos are amazing also. Nice piece.

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