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Science museum adds sky-high fear factor

Alyssa Schroeder, 11, makes her way through MOSI’s new Sky Trail Ropes Course, a three-level climbing structure that reaches 36 feet high.

Skip O’Rourke/tbt*

Alyssa Schroeder, 11, makes her way through MOSI’s new Sky Trail Ropes Course, a three-level climbing structure that reaches 36 feet high.

From the ground looking up, 36 feet doesn't seem so high.

Try it perched on a skinny beam, a glorified rope your only protection against gravity. Seldom do trees look so short and the ground so hard.

That's the reality of the new Sky Trail Ropes Course at Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry. The course opened this week as a permanent attraction highly visible from Fowler Avenue.

The course has 36 elements on a three-level structure up to 36 feet tall. People maneuver through a series of challenges involving ropes and narrow beams.

MOSI designed it for all ages, but participants must be 48 inches tall to climb without an adult. The difficulty increases the higher you get, so smaller children are best off sticking to the first level. Anyone in not-so-great shape — yes, that means obese — should watch from the ground.

Climbers wear a harness with a sling­line rope secured to the steel structure. Slip or loose your footing, and that slingline protects you from falling.

You stay connected to the slingline the entire time through an overhead track that lets you pick an element when you reach each platform. There's no disconnecting and reconnecting at any point, unlike most obstacle and zipline courses.

The fear factor depends on your attitude toward heights and sense of balance. Adrenaline junkies will love it. I was shaking at the beginning but felt exhilarated by the end — and grateful to get back on firm footing.

It takes a while to calm your nerves and find your balance. Even then, you have to really concentrate. Walking along a rope, high in the air, isn't for sissies. The challenges are wobbly, the platforms have no railings, and sometimes the slingline ropes stick.

The attraction takes about an hour to cover. What's nice is you can skip the super scary stuff and go back once you've got the nerve. There's no time limit, but it gets hot, especially when you're flexing every muscle for dear life.

Any complaints involve hands. Clenching the ropes can get tough on the palms and, for the tender-skinned, cause blisters. Some gym gloves ought to take care of that, and if it's not already obvious, sneakers are a must.

MOSI built the ropes course to take better advantage of the outdoor play area. Down the road, it may add some speed to the experience: ziplining.

Start climbing

The Sky Trail Ropes Course at the Museum of Science and Industry is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and until 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 6 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is $10 per person or $5 for MOSI members. For those also visiting the museum, the add-on cost is $7 or $5 for members. Parking is $4. 4801 E Fowler Ave., Tampa; (813) 987-6000;

Science museum adds sky-high fear factor 07/21/11 [Last modified: Thursday, July 21, 2011 4:30am]
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