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From Iowa Outdoors :: The DNR's Magazine of Conservation and Recreation


Channel Your Inner Flying Squirrel


Make Family Memories Ziplining through Wooded Gorges near Dubuque


Inner-Flying-Squirrel.jpgby Brian Button


May / June 2012


Dubuque already bursts with outdoor activities, but now you can add flying through the forest above deer, coyotes and wild turkeys. Experience the rush of whizzing past mature trees; relish freedom while zipping over valleys and 80-foot hillsides. It's an airborne hootenanny that attracts people from 350 miles away.


This family-oriented pursuit packs a thrill factor at the YMCA Union Park Camp on the north edge of Dubuque. Two capable guides assist with gearing riders in harnesses and help with every takeoff and landing. They also serve as naturalists to interpret wildlife, tracks, plants and old lead mines.


“When parents come with kids, they enjoy seeing their kids have fun while doing it too,” says Kevin Hougham, the course manager for Sky Tours, which is owned by the non-profit YMCA. They've hosted 72-year-olds and school groups plus a reunion with kids, parents and grandparents riding together.


“The lure of the zipline brings people outdoors. We turned it into a teaching moment,” he says, noting the hike to reach the ziplines ventures through rock outcrops and dense woods that garnered unforeseen benefits – many simply stop hiking to absorb the views. “They say, 'I've never been in the woods before.' To our surprise, the hikes are among the most popular features.”


Going Airborne for Freedom


“It is more of a flying sensation than a pin-your-ears-back rollercoaster,” says Hougham. The professionally designed and constructed course gets patrons started gradually, first by stepping into climbing harnesses and hooking onto the lines. The first two of seven runs help riders get comfortable with ground-based takeoffs and landings. “You go over a 45-foot valley and then the ground gradually meets you. It's not too fast, but spirited. There is a sense of freedom. Your legs and arms are dangling and you are flying through the air.”


Run three takes off from the ground and ends on a 45-foot-towre in the forest. Run four is a “leap of faith – the tipping point for people with height concerns,” he says. But with confidence built from three completed runs, riders step off the tower and upon landing look for a Cooper's hawk next above.


Line [six] hugs the terrain for 450 feet. “Going so close to the ground make it feel faster,” says Hougham. After a short hike that gains 70 feet, next run, “The Duel,” features two lines set 10 feet apart. Hanging 65 feet in the air, two people zip over an 800-foot run.