BROOKSVILLE — In the sun-dappled treetops southwest of Brooksville, athletic adventurers are mimicking the nimbleness of squirrels and the flightiness of birds. The humans aloft have taken up the ninja-like challenge of Florida's latest aerial obstacle attraction, the newly opened FLG X adventure course.
Via ropes and wobbly bridges, on hanging nets, up scrambling walls, through on-your-back-or-tummy tunnels, outdoor thrill seekers are testing their muscle and meddle from a dare-to-look-down view.
"From (age) 5 to 105, anyone who can climb a ladder and walk across a bridge can handle the 'pretty easy' course," said assistant manager Amanda Neinhuis, who honed her wilderness skills over three years with a North Carolina outfitter.
The new treetop course is the latest to operate on the county land east of Brooksville. The earlier operation — Treeumph! — was set to open in 2017, but delayed after Hurricane Irma damaged some trees and equipment and derailed the venture's finances. TreeUmph! closed in August 2018, less than a year after it opened.
The new business is owned by Paul Kent of Flagstaff, Ariz. FLG refers to company's first such development in Flagstaff.
The Brooksville site has four obstacle courses tailored to teens and adults. They range from 10 feet above ground level to 70 feet. Each course wending through mainly oak branches is longer than the last, with more hurdles and of greater difficulty. A ground-level course caters to youngsters 5 to 8 years old.
Ten to 17 challenges are built into each course, joined by what now seems to be the easiest of trembles, riding a zip line.
"The guys who built this said this was the best of them, twice as hard and twice as long," said operations manager Shane Ashton, He was among the builders for Outplay Adventures of Cleverdale, N.Y., and decided to make his home here.
With safety as their primary interest, rescue guides on the ground watch each aerial artisan.
"They're kind of like lifeguards," said Neinhuis, each trained and certified in Red Cross first-aid and CPR. They've conducted 10 to 15 "rescues" since opening in mid-April, but those have been ability based, she said. "Sometimes we give them a hint or help them through this one obstacle. 'Don't be embarrassed,' guides tell them. We'll take you down, if needed."
The greatest challenge is "getting people through their fears," said rescue guide Vic McFadden, 29.
"You get to see the whole range of emotions, some laughing, some do cry," said Ashton, a skilled aerialist at 43. "Some root for (their teammates), getting them to go past their comfort level."
On a recent humid morning, 13-year-old Tyler Croft of Spring Hill took a break from the 15-foot overhead course.
"I'm sweating, mostly," he said, given a bottle of water.
His mother, Elizabeth Croft, called from above: "He's terrified, but he worked through it."
Did Mom have no fear?
"I wouldn't say that," she answered. "I try to stay focused on what's ahead of me, not underneath me." Then, Elizabeth Croft asked if she could unhook and come down.
Climbers can't disconnect their full-body safety harnesses; only a rescuer has the tool to do so. It's a safety feature, along with redundant hand-hold ropes that run throughout.
Before heading aloft, participants view a 12-minute video of the aerial adventure, get checked out in the harness that connects to the course-long safety line and traverse a short, low-level demonstration course — all to minimize the need for a rescue.
The course, one of six treetop attractions throughout the state, is certified and inspected under Florida attraction regulations.
"Every day, we go through to make sure everything's in mint condition," added Ashton.
FLG X is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. Participants need to clip on by noon if they intend to traverse all four courses. Bookings are available online at FLGXFL.com or by phone at (888) 231-8592.
The adventure course will celebrate its grand opening with a ribbon cutting at 9 a.m. on July 13. The attraction will host a charity event from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 13, contributing 20 percent of the day's proceeds to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hernando County.
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