Weekend Highlights

Published December 4, 2012
Going Places

ZOOM! New Zip Line Course Opens at Point Defiance

by Kelly Rogers Flynt
seattle child article photo
seattle child article photo
ZOOM photos courtesy of Point Defiance Zoo.

Monkeys aren’t the only ones swinging through the trees at the Point Defiance Zoo any more.  With the opening of its latest attraction last week, ZOOM, you too can enjoy a trip through the trees.  We’re not talking about a simple zip line here.  ZOOM is a zip line and challenge course, which means that there are various obstacles, including zip lines, connected together. 

There are actually two separate courses.  Super Kids is designed for ages 5 and older, and 5-year-olds are required to be accompanied by an adult.  This course is approximately five-and-a-half feet above the ground. It is designed perfectly to both challenge and build confidence in young adventurers. 

In fact, it might even be easier for kids.  My 8-year-old daughter could bend over slightly and walk through the rope tunnel where I was required to crawl through.  I think my daughter enjoyed laughing at me as much as doing the course.  The obstacles were fun, but she said the zip line was her favorite.  The incline is relatively small, so the rider can control the speed by lifting his or her legs to become more aerodynamic or dropping them to slow down.  The Super Kids course also has a 3 foot 3 inches height requirement, so be sure to check your child before they get too excited.

The second course is called the Discovery Course and is designed for participants ages 8 and older.  While the course is manageable for big kids, it is also challenging enough to engage adults.  Parts of the course rise as high as 30 feet over the zoo grounds.  At first we thought that kids must be accompanied by an adult, but later learned that it is simply the waiver for kids under 17 that must be signed by an adult or legal guardian.  My husband said he was glad we didn’t know that before or he might have stayed below to take pictures and would have missed out on the fun.  My 11-year-old son said the hardest part was walking across swinging rope steps.  It required some serious concentration and balance.  I was even able to watch his progress as the courses overlap each other with one above and one below.

Both courses have a double safety system in that participants wear harnesses and are secured by two separate carabiners, only moving one ahead at a time so that you are never completely unlatched.  Before you are allowed on the course, groups are put through a mini test course.  First you are strapped into your harness and instructed on how to use the carabiners and the pulley for the zip lines.  You are given time to practice opening and closing the carabiners.  The test course includes one ladder up, one obstacle, one zip line, and one ladder down.  The cables throughout all the courses are marked with colored tape: red for where you attach your carabiners and blue for where you latch your pulley.  The system is easy to follow and added greatly to my peace of mind.

If you plan to try out ZOOM during your next visit to the zoo, there are a few things you should do to be prepared.  Closed toe shoes are required and athletic-type shoes and long pants are recommended.  All long hair must be tied back.  This was the requirement that had me fishing through my purse for a hairband for my daughter.  If you are bringing friends with you, remember that a waiver must be signed by a parent or legal guardian for anyone under the age of 17.  I couldn't find the waiver on the zoo’s website for parents to print out in advance, but I’m sure that is coming. 

I was glad to have my gloves with me, but the zoo also has gloves that they loan out, which worked even better than mine.  The zoo gloves had grippy palms and the fingertips cut out, which made them perfect for the course.  One area that the zoo is still working out is how to determine the groups for orientation and the test course.  We found ourselves strapped into harnesses and waiting for quite a while for others to fill out the paperwork.  I would recommend budgeting around an hour from the time you walk up to the window until you are finished with the course.

One nice thing about ZOOM is the location.  It is situated close to the zoo entrance, down from the education building.  It is not an area that you just happen upon but rather one you must seek out.  The attraction is so new that there is not yet signage in the zoo to point you in the right direction, so don’t be afraid to ask the zoo staff which way to go.  I like the secluded spot for several reasons.  Participants need to stay focused while on the course.  While there is a redundancy in the safety system, it is still the participant’s responsibility to follow it.  Also, the private area may help prevent some younger zoo visitors from having a meltdown about not being big enough to do it. 

ZOOM is an extra fee and proportional to the amount of excitement it provides.  It is probably not something guests will do on every visit to the zoo, so keeping it separate is helpful for that, too.

Zoos are pretty special places for children.  With the addition of ZOOM, the zoo’s attraction will extend far past childhood.  It is a great first step into outdoor adventuring.  The memory of the shining faces of my kids as they recounted their adventures on the walk back to the car is something that I will cherish for a long, long time.

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If You Go...

Where: Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, 5400 N. Pearl St., Tacoma.

When: Now-Dec. 14: Thurs-Mon, 9:30 a.m. - 8 p.m. (closed 4–5 p.m.) and Tue-Wed, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m. Dec. 15-Dec. 23: daily 9:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. (closed 4-5 p.m.). Mon, Dec. 24: 9:30 a.m. - 3 p.m. and Tue, Dec. 25: 5 p.m. - 8 p.m. Dec. 26-Jan. 1: daily 9:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. (closed 4-5 p.m.).

Cost: Zoo admission or membership is required to enter the zoo.  Zoo fees are $19.95 for the Super Kids course and $29.95 for the Discovery course.  A discounted fee of $9.95 for an adult companion on the Super Kids course is available.

Contact: www.pdza.org.

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For more ideas on active winter fun, visit this Seattle's Child story.