Saturday, January 20, 2018

Zipping along despite disabilities

Gatorland is planning a zip line that will allow visitors with lower-body disabilities to soar above its cold-blooded residents.

The new zip line will debut this fall, said Mark McHugh, president of the longtime Orlando attraction. He thinks it will be the first such zip line in the world.

Wheelchair-bound customers will be able to go up the ramp of an existing tower and be transferred into a specialized harness attached to the zip line.

"It shoots across the alligator breeding marsh and actually goes under one of our (existing) zip lines," McHugh said.

The one-segment course will fly for about 350 feet above the water. It will end on the other side of the marsh, near ground level, where the zipper will transfer to another chair. Some upper-body strength will be required to participate, and some folks with severe disabilities might not be able to glide on the line, McHugh said.

Work on the $200,000 project began this week. Gatorland debuted its Screamin' Gator Zip Line course in 2011 after its executives traveled the country to check out other zip offerings. "We never saw a single one that had wheelchair accessibility," McHugh said. "It really didn't dawn on us to take that into consideration until we had started building one."

The park's current course stretches over 1,200 feet, including five zips and a swinging bridge. The cost varies seasonally but can go as high as $70. McHugh said. A price has not been set for the accessibility line, but he said he expects it to be about $25.

Some zip-line courses adjusted their courses to be more available to disabled people, said David Jones, president of the Tallahassee-based Florida Disabled Outdoor Association.

Gatorland's new line is "the first that I've been able to locate or have any knowledge of that's being built and designed to accommodate folks of different ability right from the get-go," Jones said.

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