North Park soon may have a new treetop course -- a series of zip lines, rope ladders, tarzan swings and tree stands -- that could develop into a regional attraction.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has asked county council to approve a 10-year contract with Go Ape to develop a course as a way to improve the use of the park and generate some revenue.
Go Ape has developed three similar courses since it moved to this country in 2010, but its parent company has been operating in the United Kingdom since 2002.
Dan D'Agostino, USA managing director of Go Ape, said if council approves the project, the course could open this season. He said the company hasn't developed a design for the North Park course yet, but a course typically includes a series of zip lines, rope ladders and swings that can be used by normally healthy visitors from 10 to more than 90 years old.
"Each one of our courses is a custom design because of the different characteristics of each park," he said. "The course in North Park would be unique because it has a different terrain and different trees than the other sites.
"It's a gorgeous, gorgeous park. We've walked the trees a bit and we have some ideas, but we're waiting for approval before we move ahead with a design."
The proposed agreement with Go Ape calls for the course to be located between Pearce Mill Road and the tennis courts to the east of the boathouse. Although part of a course could go over water, such as North Park Lake, Mr. D'Agostino said there are no plans to do that.
"We want to create something that would fit seamlessly within what's already there and there are so many things going on around the lake that we won't go there," he said.
The deal calls for a 10-year contract with two five-year extensions, with the county receiving $20,000 the first year and increasing to $40,500 by the fifth year.
Go Ape began its U.S. operation in 2010 at Rock Creek Park in Rockville, Md., and opened additional sites last year at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis and Freedom Park near Williamsburg, Va.
"We think our partnership with Go Ape has been phenomenal," said Maureen Faul, public information officer for the Indianapolis Department of Parks and Recreation. She said the park has been "very satisfied" with the level of business, which ranges from families to Boy Scouts, churches and business groups.
Mr. D'Agostino said Go Ape expects to draw 60 to 70 customers on an average day and as many as 200 on a busy day. The course is a daylight activity that takes two to three hours to complete depending on how quickly a visitor moves through. It's pricey at $55 a person, but the company offers group prices and often has other discounts, Mr. D'Agostino said.
The course has options along the way that allow customers to choose a more active or more scenic path. Visitors also can watch from below as customers work their way through the course.
Gary Rigdon, chairman of the Friends of North Park, said he supports the idea for the course but he encouraged the county to be careful with the types of activities it encourages there. The county also has a contract with a private operator for a restaurant at the lake.
"In general, I believe that public/private partnerships can be a good thing for our county parks, but there has to be a balance," he said in an email. "If you enter into too many of these arrangements, and build too many new facilities, the parks may no longer be able to serve their intended purpose, which is to provide places for the public to engage in recreation and enjoy nature, both of which are important for our health and our overall quality of life."
Ed Blazina: email@example.com or 412-263-1470.