Pittsburgh-region treetop obstacle course swinging into second season

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It seems people in southwestern Pennsylvania like to "Go Ape."

More than 13,000 people, some traveling from two hours away, made their way through the new treetop obstacle course in North Park last year, a first-season turnout that Dan D'Agostino, USA managing director for Go Ape, called "fantastic."

"We're definitely pleased with year one," he said. "It met our expectations."

He expects this season, which started April 5 and should run through December, to yield even larger numbers.

"We definitely anticipate our turnout to increase over the next couple of years," he said.

Go Ape North Park, featuring zip lines, rope ladders and "Tarzan swings," is one of six courses the company manages in the United States, since opening the first one in 2010 in Rockville, Md., near Washington, D.C.

The North Park site opened in April 2013, after Allegheny County signed a 10-year contract with two five-year extensions, with Go Ape, which paid the county $20,000 in its first year and will pay an annual fee to the county in amounts increasing up to $40,500 by the fifth year of the contract.

"People really seem to love it," said Rich Fitzgerald, the county executive, whose administration pushed for the company to come to Allegheny County. Mr. Fitzgerald, who has eight children, said some of them have done the course, and they've passed word on to their siblings that "it's a neat thing to do."

The turnout for the first year -- which was a slightly shorter season than this year's should be -- showed that Go Ape is bringing more people into the county park, he said.

Robert Habegger, who manages marketing and communication duties for the Friends of North Park group, said it has been a good deal for North Park.

The Go Ape company, which employs 12 to 15 employees at its North Park location, depending on the time of year, has also contributed to stewardship efforts in the park, Mr. Habegger said.

The company had a fundraiser to raise $500 for the Pittsburgh Trails Advocacy Group and helped in other activities in the park, including removal of non-native invasive species and the construction of fishing line receptacles, Mr. D'Agostino said. They plan on participating in similar activities, he said.

And as for the course itself?

"Everyone seems to be enjoying it," Mr. Habegger said. He completed the course once last year and expects to do it again this year.

People like to come out multiple times, said Mr. D'Agostino, since there are multiple routes to take on the course. Go Ape will likely refresh the courses, he said, but this year the setup is similar to last year.

Most people who visit Go Ape North Park are from the Pittsburgh area, but Mr. D'Agostino said it also had people come from West Virginia and Ohio.

And Mr. Habegger agreed with Go Ape's prediction that more would turn out for the course now that it is in its second year.

"It's catching on," Mr. Habegger said. "The word of mouth is getting out."

The Go Ape North Park experience takes about two to three hours. Cost is $55 for adults and $35 for people between the ages of 10 and 17. Information about hours is on the Go Ape website.

Correction, posted April 15: An earlier version of this article listed the minimum age for Go Ape participants as 13. The minimum age is 10. An earlier version of this story also incorrectly identified the group that was benefited by a Go Ape fundraiser.

Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.

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