Swinging through the trees like Tarzan, the legendary jungle acrobat, becomes a dream come true for adventurous souls brave enough to tackle the obstacles and hurtle across the zip-lines at TreeUmph, a treetop adventure course that elevates extreme sport to dizzying new heights in east Bradenton.
TreeUmph features an aerial array of wobbly bridges, swinging logs, climb-through barrels, bungee swings, climbing walls, suspended surfboards and hanging rope nets that participants of nearly all ages can monkey around on as they ascend into the treetops.
“Not many people have the opportunity to get outdoors and play these days. This is a place where they can get outside, challenge themselves and have fun,” says TreeUmph Owner Kathy Corr, who opened the business with her husband, Aaron, in December, 2012.
After “learning the ropes” and getting a feel for the harness, climbing gear and safety instructions supplied by the staff at TreeUmph Base Camp, participants ages seven and up have an opportunity to challenge their bodies and nerves on the park’s five obstacle courses, which progress in difficulty and elevation.
To date, Corr says the oldest tree-trekker to tackle the obstacle courses at TreeUmph is 87 years old. Two 75 year-old TreeUmph-ers recently became the oldest individuals to complete the extreme “Summit Course,” a nerve-wracking 60 foot-high series of challenges that only approximately 10 percent of park visitors have the bravado and upper body strength to undertake. No matter which course participants choose, the adventure culminates in a final, thrilling zip-line ride that starts at 60 feet in elevation and rockets the triumphant TreeUmph course-conquerors back to the Base Camp 650 feet across the park.
“We get a lot of feedback on how physically challenging the course was. People want to conquer it. We’ve had a number of people come in who are afraid of heights, and that really takes guts. One lady actually came to us in tears after completing the zip-line, and she said, ‘Thank you for building this. I’ve overcome my fear of heights.’ I think that’s the most rewarding thing for us — that people are out here having fun, challenging themselves and really getting something valuable out of the experience.”
Moving To Florida
Kathy, whose background is in physical therapy, and her husband, Aaron, a civil engineer, ran several successful businesses in Canada including kayak eco-tours and physical therapy clinics before relocating their family to the Sunshine State in 2009. A desire to “get out from behind the desk” prompted them to openTreeUmph.
“Aaron and I used to enjoy going on walks to a park about a half mile from our home in Canada. One day, someone was out marking trees, and we got really frustrated because we thought they were going to cut down the trees and that we wouldn’t have our nice walking trail anymore. As it turns out, they were building a treetop adventure course, and it looked like something that would be fun to do with our kids, so we were psyched,” Corr recalls.
Upon their arrival on Florida’s Gulf Coast, the Corrs set out to locate a site for their own treetop adventure course. They settled on an undeveloped location in eastern Manatee County, approximately nine miles east of the interstate.
“Finding a piece of property that was affordable and had enough tall trees that we could use without having to bring in many big poles was the biggest challenge. Over half of the course is built on the trees that are already here,” Corr says.
Careful consideration was taken to ensure eco-conservation in the construction of the 14-acre course, which is erected among the loblolly pines and live oak trees that grow naturally in Florida’s wetlands. TreeUmph courses were designed to minimize root damage and an innovative compression system was employed in course construction to safely secure platforms to the trees without damaging them.
“Rather than drilling into the trees with bolts and nails, the entire course was erected using wooden blocks that compress around the trees without harming them. We run inspections every day and every month for safety, and the builders come in once a year to adjust the platform slightly so that the sap can continue running through the tree, keeping it healthy and allowing it to continue growing naturally,” Corr explains.
It Takes A Global Village
The $1.5 million course was designed and built by Outplay Adventures, the upstate New York distributor of Quebec-based TreeGo, an international leader in aerial adventure courses, which Corr says has been building similar courses in Europe for more than 30 years. More than 40 similar TreeGo courses exist in France, Holland, Canada and the United States. Outplay Adventures conducts routine material safety inspections and repairs at TreeUmph and trains course guides and staff in safety procedures and guidelines that are time-tested at other TreeGo parks.
“A lot of the courses up north are built on ski mountains, but this course is a bigger park, more spread out,” Corr says of the TreeUmph adventure park. “There’s more varied terrain here than you’ll see in other locations. Our builders told us our ‘extreme course’ is the most extreme one they’d built until that point.”
Zip-lining — arguably the most “extreme” attraction at TreeUmph, at heights of 60 feet where the platforms sway in the wind — is catching on in the urban world, as well. Thrill-seekers who are intrigued by the birds-eye-view of nature provided by the six-stories-high, 600-foot-long zip-line that gets the adrenaline pumping at TreeUmph can also check out the new Sky Trail at MOSI in Tampa. The Sky Trail kicks off at 65 feet and zooms its riders across a portion of the museum campus, over the “Kids in Charge!” building to a tower more than a football field’s length away, and back again. Unlike the intense upper-body workout that precedes the zip-line at TreeUmph, it’s the brain that does the most exercise during a trip to MOSI. But the thrill of the zip-line is guaranteed to get the heart and adrenaline pumping during a day at the museum.
TreeUmph’s estimated economic impact is expected to reach $2 million, with $1 million in local consulting and construction services; $500,000 in annual payroll, supplies and materials; and $500,000 in peripheral business from visitors traveling each year to Bradenton to experience the course.
Local businesses participated in the construction of TreeUmph, with financing provided by Gateway Bank of Southwest Florida. Sarasota architect, Steve Isaacson, designed the Base Camp; site engineering was provided by Lombardo, Foley & Kolarik of Palmetto; and Base Camp construction and development was managed by Holland Construction of Sarasota.
Destination For Tourists, Residents
In its first seven months in business, the park, which can serve up to 400 people per day, has become a popular destination for individuals and families, corporate groups, catered events and kids birthday parties. The park is estimated to draw 25,000 – 40,000 people from the greater Tampa and Fort Myers areas east Manatee County annually.
“We thought it would be a great place from a tourism standpoint, but also because there’s a large local community out east that is full of people who want to get outside and be active. We have 15-20 season pass holders who come in once or twice a week,” Corr says.
Tickets to TreeUmph are available by reservation starting at $25.95 for children and ranging up to $49.95 for adults. The course is open 6 days per week from 7:30am – 3:30pm, and is closed on Wednesdays. TreeUmph also recently introduced a nighttime course option. Starting at 7:30pm every Friday night, headlamp-equipped night owls can now take a nocturnal jaunt through the treetops.
Adventurers and thrill-seekers of all ages who simply cannot seem to keep their feet on the ground can seize the unique opportunity to take an aerial walk on the wild side and experience the world from high above the natural Florida wetlands at TreeUmph. The climb is challenging, but there is no greater reward than the “TreeUmphant” feeling of being on top of the world — except, perhaps, the feeling of soaring back toward that world on a thrilling, 660-foot-long zip-line. Don’t forget your Tarzan yell.
Jessi Smith, a native Floridian, is a freelance writer who lives and works in downtown Sarasota. When she isn’t writing about local arts and culture, she can generally be found practicing yoga or drinking craft beers and talking about her magnificent cat. Jessi received her bachelor’s degree in art history from Florida International University and, predictably, perpetually smells of patchouli. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.