Friday, March 7, 2014

Sight-Seeing vs. Flight-Seeing

Ziplining is a fun activity. I’ve zipped along on canopy tours at Hocking Hills, the New River Gorge, and at the WVU course near Coopers Rocks. Last year I flew (and I mean FLEW!) down the half-mile long, 30 story drop, 60 MPH zipline at Burning Rock in southern West Virginia (

This past fall, I was able to add another ziplining experience to my list. It is located at a unique place—“The Wilds” near Cumberland, Ohio (about an hour north of Parkersburg, WV). The Wilds is managed by the Columbus Zoo, and is considered the largest wildlife conservation center in North America for endangered species from around the world.

The Wilds is comprised of nearly 10,000 acres of reclaimed land that had been strip-mined for coal by a huge drag line shovel known as “Big Muskie.” Operating from 1969 to 1991, it stood nearly 22 stories tall and was the largest single-bucket digging machine ever created. It was eventually dismantled for scrap, except for the large bucket (big enough for two Greyhound buses) that can now be seen nearby at a roadside park along Rt. 78.

The former strip mine has been repurposed as a nature preserve and conservation center, hosting lots of interesting animals. There is a nice visitor center from which you can take “safari” tours. Two layers of tall fencing with double gates restrict entry to the various sections of the complex. The fencing not only keeps the exotic animals inside, it also tries to keep the native white-tail deer and other local animals out. When I first arrived in the mid-‘90s, it reminded me of the Jurassic Park movie. It certainly seemed strange to see giraffes, zebras, and other animals roaming free in natural settings that were not all that far from my hometown of Parkersburg.

This time, I was not going to take another safari bus. Instead, I would fly through the air above a portion of the complex. Since the ziplines have an established course from which you can’t deviate, your ability to see animals while zipping is dependent on whether the animals choose to be in your vicinity during your “flight-seeing” tour.

On this particular day, I got to see American Bison, Pere David's Deer, Przewalski's Horses, and Sichuan Takins from a distance. However, I did enjoy seeing a pair of Trumpeter Swans fly close by our tower. They were impeded by a headwind so it seemed they were flying in a mesmerizingly slow motion as they went past. Also, as the van took us back to the visitor center, we enjoyed a close encounter with a Southern White Rhinoceros.

There are ten zips in this particular course. Most of them are on towers above the pasture fields, making this more of an “open” experience than other canopy tours where you are flying through the trees. Two of the first zips near the start incorporate some of the woods near the visitor center, and one of them starts in the woods with the trees closely surrounding you before you “bust out” into open pasture for the latter half of that long zip. Another interesting aspect of this course is that you fly over one of their lakes for the last three zips. Flying over open water was interesting!

I really enjoyed the Wild Zipline Safari and would recommend it to others. The guides were helpful and informative. Even if you have been on ziplines before, this one is unique. Just be aware that there is no guarantee that you will get a good view of the animals, because they can’t relocate the course every time the animals roam around. Regardless of whether you zip or not, I’d encourage everyone to check out The Wilds ( Take the zipline if you are interested in “flight-seeing”—take one of their other “sight-seeing” safari tours if you want to get a good look at their animals.

Follow the twin cables and look close for the square landing tower
on the far side of the lake. This is a nice long zip over the water!

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