Go Above & Beyond

The new Challenge Course was built around the existing trees in Bond Park to preserve the natural canopy.

On a crisp winter morning, 5-year-old Samaira Desai whizzed down the zipline, gripping white-knuckled the entire way. Nearby, several other children crawled through tunnels, inched along ropes, and navigated obstacles like the Spider Web and the Lily Pads. Enrolled in a Town of Cary track-out camp, the kids spent a fun-filled hour exploring the recently refurbished Challenge Course at Bond Park.

All the activity is just what Cary parks and recreation staff were aiming for when renovations to the park’s ropes course began last summer. During the planning stage, staff looked hard at requests that they couldn’t accommodate on the old course. Families and children under 10 were two obvious under-served populations.

Emily Boykin, the outdoor recreation program supervisor at Bond Park, makes sure Samaira Desai is safely strapped in before the 5-year-old takes a turn on the zipline.

“We’re trying to look at ways we can serve everybody,” said Andrew Marsden, recreation manager at Bond Park.

In the new design, a lower level was added, about 8 feet off the ground, along with eight new elements and a 90-foot youth zipline. Staff can now hold more family programs and activities for children as young as 5. Along with track-out camps, those include summer camps and Scout outings.

A child speeds down the 90-foot zipline at Bond Park. There is also a longer, 300-foot zipline for adults.

“We also made sure that the lower level could be used by adults as well. So if you come out and you want to do a group, but you don’t necessarily want to go up to 35 feet, you can still play around and have fun in an area that you’re comfortable with,” Marsden said.

The Bond Park Challenge Course, first built more than 25 years ago, is described as “an outdoor learning facility designed to stimulate teamwork, encourage cooperation, instill trust, and bolster confidence.” The original course was attached to the park’s trees, so participants could traverse Tarzan-like from tree platform to tree platform. But all that activity started to impact the health of the supporting trees.

Seven-year-old Paul Arrange crawls through a tunnel at the Bond Park Challenge Course during a Town of Cary track-out camp.

“We were having to do some major modifications or repairs to that course, because of the trees. So instead of doing that, we transitioned to a pole course, which is just better for the trees and has a better life,” said Marsden, who was the project manager for the renovations.

Know the Ropes

  • Open by reservation only, for groups of eight or more.
  • High course is 35 feet above the ground and is geared more to individual challenges.
  • New lower level is 8 feet up and appropriate for younger climbers and families.
  • Low course is on or near the ground and focuses on team-building.
  • Fees vary, depending on type of program and resident status. Expect to pay $27-$75 per person for general visitors or $41-$85 each for corporate participants.
  • Hours: open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, closed on holidays
  • Gearing up for the Grand Opening, see myCary.org for details.

Source: Town of Cary

Located in the same spot, the new course was planned around the existing trees, to preserve the natural canopy. Bonsai Design LLC, based in Colorado, first created a rough outline of the design. Then every tree in the area was tagged with a GPS location.

“Then they shifted the design around, shifted where the anchors had to go, so that it would impact trees in the minimum amount possible,” Marsden said. “We did lose three trees in this entire process, but two of them were already dead.”

The $375,000 renovation was completed in November. The new course is longer, more connected, and finishes with a 300-foot zipline.

“We’ve gone for a slightly longer plan that takes you all the way to the end. It’s a bit of a quicker ride, a bit more exciting change-up for people who have already been here,” Marsden said.

“The course is also more independent, so you can kind of go out by yourself, fully clipped in. There’s no way to get out, but you can then explore and kind of be free.”

A spider web-shaped rope course challenges the dexterity and balance of a youngster.

That freedom comes thanks to updated safety equipment. But before anyone ascends, they must learn the rules of the course and how the safety gear works.

“There is a small ground-based course that we go through to demonstrate how everything works,” Marsden said. “We can watch you, and it gives you a chance to ask questions that you’re not sure about before you end up in the sky.”

Emily Boykin demonstrates how to navigate the Firecrackers.

Reservations are being taken now for the Grand Opening. Plans are also in the works for birthday party packages, and staff is considering walk-up days, where individuals can sign up without enlisting a big group to come too.

Also coming this spring is the return of Bond Park Adventure Days. On the third Saturday of every month, visitors can buy a $29 pass that includes a day of family fun at the Bond Park Challenge Course and Boathouse.

The high level is 35 feet off the ground, with plenty of obstacles and skill-building elements.

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