Shawnee Bluffs to offer zip-line trips

By Tara Kulash

Students will soon have a new way to experience the Shawnee National Forest — from the treetops.

Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour opens April 18 in Lick Creek, just south of Marion. The eight zip-line tour includes 11 platforms, three aerial suspension bridges and two short ground hikes, according to a press release from the Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau.

A zip line consists of a cable stretched between two points of elevation with an attached pulley so riders can use gravity to glide down the line. The Shawnee tour will allow guests to reach speeds of 35 miles per hour, and the longest zip line will span more than 1,100 feet, according to the release.

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Marc Miles, owner of Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour, said the idea for the tour originated after he built a zip line in his backyard when his kids were young, and he thought about making one for his grandchildren as well. He said he started researching zip lines and noticed their increasing U.S. popularity.

“I thought, ‘What a great thing to bring to southern Illinois to expose people in another method to the Shawnee Forest and just nature and outdoors,’” he said.

Miles said he went to the Association of Challenge Course Technology,  which develops standards for zip lines, three years ago and met with Geronimo Construction, a company known for low-environmental-impact design and construction.

Shortly after, he said he brought a Geronimo representative to conduct a feasibility study on the property.

“When I walked him off this first bluff and a grin broke out on his face, I knew I found the right piece of property,” Miles said.

He bought the property in November and has been building the tour since, he said.

“It’s going to be more than just an adrenal experience,” Miles said. “We want to teach people about the flora, fauna and the history of the area and give them an education about the southern Illinoisan Shawnee Forest.”

Cindy Cain, executive director for Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau, said her agency has been involved in the project for almost two years. She said she believes the zip line will be a great regional asset because tourists will come from all over for the zip lines and perhaps stay for other activities such as the wine trails.

Miles said he thinks the tour could benefit the SIU campus and possibly increase student enrollment. He said the zip lines are an easy way to experience the outdoors without using too much physical effort.

However, Shawnee National Forest doesn’t house the area’s only zip lines. The university’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center has two zip lines as well.

Travis Geske, program assistant for the Underway Outdoor Adventure Program, said Touch of Nature had one of the area’s first zip lines. He said others were constructed at the center since 1968, but only two exist now. Patrons generally visit for the high-ropes courses and often use the zip lines after, he said, one of which is connected to the high-ropes course. Both are about 100 yards long, Geske said, and one reaches up to about 25 or 30 miles an hour.

“The best part is the thrill of the ride,” he said. “It can be scary at first, but actually getting to go and do it is really a fun time.”

Geske said he thinks Touch of Nature helps with university enrollment not only because of visitor opportunities but also because the center employs students.

“You don’t have to be a student in outdoor recreation,” he said. “You could be an engineering student who just loves working in the outdoors and wants to get something on your résumé.”

Students can visit shawneezip.com and ton.siu.edu. for more information about the Shawnee zip-line tours or Touch of Nature Center programs.

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