“Have you ever wondered what it would be like to fly like a bird between the trees,” he said, describing a sensation of weightlessness while zipping by rock bluffs under a canopy of colors. “This is about as close to that as it gets.”
Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour developer Marc Miles continued describing the coming zip line tours he has been working on for the past three years.
“We’re Illinois’ first entirely tree-based, eco-friendly zip line tour service,” said Miles. “Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour is going to be more exciting and more educational than any other outdoor attraction in the Midwest.”
Scheduled to open April 18, the tour service will host eight zip lines with lengths ranging from 120 to 1,100 feet, which will zig-zag across the property’s bluffs and through its valley. The tour will also include 11 platforms nestled high in the trees, three aerial suspension bridges and two short ground hikes.
“People can experience zip lines in any number of places, but we are creating a full outdoor experience that combines the rush of flying among the treetops with learning about the flora, fauna and natural history of the area along the way,” said Miles. “There’s really nothing else like it and we couldn’t be more excited about the grand opening.”
Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour worked alongside representatives from the Shawnee National Forest in surveying possible locations that would allow for a “pristine forest” type tour, said Miles. He said he became very excited when they landed a piece of “undisturbed” property alongside the national forest.
“It should be a unique and thrilling way for tourists to see the beauty of Southern Illinois,” said Allen Nicholas, forest supervisor for Shawnee National Forest, who worked with Miles in locating the piece of private property Shawnee Bluffs purchased. “Southern Illinois is blessed with a lot of ecological features and this piece is situated alongside much of it.”
Tours are designed to last approximately three hours and will cost $85 per person. Miles said the zip tour is capable of handling guests between 70 and 270 lbs. and allows for zipping through the forest at speeds topping 35 mph. Sitting just a few miles south of Blue Sky Vineyard, Miles said Shawnee Bluffs is looking forward to working with other attractions in the area such as the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.
“With four distinct seasons in Southern Illinois, a visitor is able to return for views that will change with each of those seasons,” said Miles, adding that Shawnee Bluffs compliments other outdoor area attractions such as rock climbing and hiking in the Shawnee Forest or canoeing on the Cache River. “Only instead of hiking through the forest, now visitors will be able to zip through the forest.”
Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour is expecting to draw visitors from throughout the Midwest and Tri-State area and was partially funded by a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Office of Tourism. The service broke ground in December 2012 working with a Biwabik, Minn. zip line tour construction specialist company, Geronimo Construction, and is owned and operated by a group led by Miles and his wife Candy. The service expects to hire approximately 50 tour guides who will undergo training to help accompany guests on their tours.
“Safety is paramount and our guides and our service puts the safety of its guest first,” said Miles, adding that helmets and gloves will be provided and that guests are connected to a cable line at all times while on the tour.
Scheduled to open April 18, guests can begin booking tours online at shawneezip.com beginning March 15. Reservations are not required and tours are available every half hour, which can handle groups of eight to ten in each run.