Traversing a wooden bridge suspended more than 30 feet in the air, Spokane resident Brian Floyd and his son, Boston, made their way along a series of ropes leading them to a tree platform and to safety.
“That was scary and fun,” said Boston, his father unhooking a metal clasp from a cable above them and securing it to a second surrounding a tree.
The Floyds were among a group of visitors to a 3-acre aerial park on Mica Peak, an outfit recently opened by Liberty Lake-based zip line company Mica Moon Zip Tours.
The park allows urban adventurers to test their skills on challenge courses of varying difficulties, such as high-rise tight ropes, canoe and wine barrel bridges, and nets suspended 30 to 70 feet above ground connecting to tree platforms.
“The setting and area is incredible with just the way that it’s done and how it’s put together,” said Brian Floyd. “It’s amazing. It’s really well put together and really safe, but scary at the same time.”
Mica Moon Zip Tours owner Rik Stewart, who describes the park as a “McDonald’s playground in the trees,” partnered with former Utah Jazz and Gonzaga basketball player John Stockton to create the course.
The park is located on more than 400 acres of land on Mica Peak that Stewart and his wife, Heidi, own and lease. Stockton and Stewart gathered ideas for obstacles from different parks in the U.S., and also included their own concepts.
The park attracts people of all ages and from all over the world, including the United Kingdom and China, Stewart said.
Stewart said people typically find out about the park and zip lines through the internet.
“Everybody that has done it has loved it,” he said.
The view from above
The three-hour aerial park tour begins at the Portal in Liberty Lake. Participants sign liability waivers and take a 15-minute ride in a passenger van to a stop point at Mica Peak.
There, participants put on harnesses and helmets, ride up a trail in all-terrain UTVs to a training platform where guides teach them how to use carabiners, which are secured onto a cable used to navigate the course. They work in tandem, with one carabiner remaining closed until the second is secured onto the cable.
Participants hike down to the aerial park and navigate obstacles at their own pace, going from station to station.
Course guides – who undergo more than 85 hours of training and are certified through the Association for Challenge Course Technology – are available at all times to help people navigate the track.
Stewart said his favorite aspect of owning Mica Moon Zip Tours is helping people conquer their fears.
Sometimes people come off the zip line in tears, he said, not because they’re afraid, “but because it’s the best thing they’ve ever done,” he said.
New amusement park?
The concept of aerial parks began in Europe during the 1990s and has gained in popularity since, with as many as 400 courses in the U.S., said Paul Cummings, president of Strategic Adventures, a consulting firm for people wanting to open outdoor adventure parks.
“There’s about 2,000 (aerial parks) in Europe now,” Cummings said. “It’s a trend we’ve foreseen coming for awhile.”
More than 55 percent of adventure park businesses reported $500,000 to $1 million in revenue for 2016, according to a state of the industry report by Adventure Park Insider. About 25 percent of those businesses plan to add an aerial adventure course to their facility in the near future, according to the report.
Shows such as American Ninja Warrior have been a driver for outdoor aerial adventure courses, which are also opening in zoos and theme parks, Cummings said.
“(Aerial parks) are becoming more popular in just about every venue,” he said. “We’re just seeing them all over the place.”
Stewart, who attended courses taught by Cummings at the Association for Challenge Course Technology’s annual conference, consulted with him about the feasibility of opening Mica Moon’s aerial park.
“When I would go to his classes, they would talk about what is coming around the bend,” Stewart said. “The zip line craze started in Europe and we’re following the same road curve as Europe, but we’re just about 10 years behind.”
Stewart embarked on a two-year permitting process through Spokane County to get a zoning change and conditional use permit to open Mica Moon Zip Tours. The process included working with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and firefighters to ensure they could reach platforms in case of medical emergencies.
Stewart said when he applied for a conditional-use permit he included the option for an aerial park.
“(The aerial park) has been in my master plan from the beginning. What really kick-started it was running into John (Stockton),” Stewart said. “He has been an awesome partner because he sees the value in what this park can do to get people outdoors and get them to expand their comfort zones.”
Stewart, who comes from an engineering background, was diagnosed with cancer more than 19 years ago. Doctors at that time told him he only had three to six years to live, and he underwent several rounds of chemotherapy. Stewart resigned from a job at a data center in Liberty Lake to open Mica Moon Zip Tours, which gives him a chance to work with his family, he said.
“It’s a passion for me, and with my health situation, it seems like a smart idea to take care of my family,” he said. “It also gets people away from their television and devices to enjoy the outdoors. Memories are what I sell. I love it.”
Stewart said he wants to add concessions and additional obstacle courses to the park.
Brian Floyd already is planning a return to the park with a group of friends.
“I think a lot of people need to experience this. I think the greatest thing about this area is all the outdoor activities you can do with the lakes, rivers and mountains. This is just one more thing that people in this area would really like to enjoy and experience,” he said. “I think that everybody that likes to be outside to do anything active – that’s even a little bit afraid of heights like me – should come out here and experience this and see it.”