Adam Santoleri got a true bird’s-eye view of the Flint Hills this week.
Save the hum of steel wheels on cable, he traveled in silence well above ancient oaks where cardinals flitted below, while his outward view stretched for miles across green rolling prairie.
Other times his sight was only a few yards on each side of aerial flyways cut through the treetops or vertical rock formations. Often he was more than 100 feet in the air, and some of the glides lasted more than a quarter-mile at 40 miles per hour or more.
At the end of each ride, Santoleri was smiling as much at what he’d accomplished, as at what he was feeling and seeing.
“Normally I’m a scaredy-cat. I don’t do heights well,” he said, seconds after someone detached his snug hip harness from a steel cable.
“But this is really fun. The views up here are incredible. It’s gorgeous.”
Santoleri is one of many who have come from several states over the past year to the rugged edges of the Kansas River valley to literally zip through the air at Wildwood Outdoor Adventure Park, on the south edge of Manhattan.
Dan Springer, Wildwood manager, said his family originally purchased the 80 acres to create a housing development. Zoning regulations eventually made that financially unfeasible.
They found another use on a family vacation in Tennessee when Springer, his children and parents went to a zip-line course.
“It was something an entire family could do outdoors,” he said. “We wanted to give other people a chance to get outside … a place where they could get kids outdoors.”
Springer said the process of creating the zip-line course took about two years. The first year was mostly spent on design and making sure all zoning needs were met.
The second year was split between construction and inspections. The course was made to the specifications of the Association of Challenge Course Technology.
The group, which decides and approves zip-line safety regulations, made an inspection before Wildwood opened and still checks everything from bolt tightness to cable wear annually.
Safety is an ongoing dedication. All employees at Wildwood have undergone special zip-line safety training.
Much of the equipment gets daily inspections by the staff. Springer said every aspect of the harness and trolley system has a safety backup, and it has a backup, too.
Safety cables are attached to zip-liners from their first step on the launch platform until their trolley system, and another backup cable, are attached and double-checked.
“Anything that has to do with zip-lining has to be good to at least 5,000 pounds,” said Springer, adding that the trolley wheel system was rated at about 18,000 pounds.
Springer said they can accommodate people of any age, as long as they’re between 50 pounds and 275 pounds. Smaller than that and they often don’t have enough weight to finish a line. More, and they may come in too fast, which could hurt the guest or staff.
As well as the expected families and groups of college friends, Springer said Wildwood regularly hosts civic, business and law enforcement groups that come to the park to improve team-building skills and have some fun together.
Santoleri was one of about 24 soldiers at the course from Fort Riley, as part of the post’s Warrior Adventure Quest. Travis Engle, quest leader on Wednesday, said they regularly take groups of soldiers to such places.
It’s often to help them adjust from deployment to garrison life, to show soldiers healthy, outdoor activities and to build friendships. Engle said outdoor activities are also a great way to introduce new soldiers to others with whom they will be serving.
The soldiers began on a 100-foot bunny line at the edge of the parking lot, then worked their way through the property on seven different lines. The highest was about 200 feet in the air, and the longest stretched to about 1,400 feet.
At two stations, shouts of encouragement and laughter sounded when zip-liners raced on parallel cables. Some, like Santoleri, who were hesitant on the first few lines, quickly jumped on the last few runs.
Rather than take a walkway to the bottom of the tower at the end of their final run, participants hooked up to a vertical system and jumped off the edge of the platform. After free-falling part of the 40 feet, they were gently lowered to the ground by the cable system.
On the ground, Santoleri and others joked with each other for a bit, then all walked to the parking lot with smiles.
“Oh, I’d definitely do this again,” Santoleri said. “It was a little outside my comfort zone, but it was a lot of fun.”
Wildwood Outdoor Adventure Park
Where: 375 Johnson Road, Manhattan
Services: Rides on up to seven zip lines, from about 100 to 1,400 feet in length and a 40-foot free-fall system. Complete course usage usually takes 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Rates: First two (short) lines, $25; first four lines, $45; all lines and free fall, $65. Ten percent discount for groups of seven or more.
Reservations: Walk-ups discouraged. Reservations can be made by phone or online.
Hours: The park is basically open during daylight hours, rain or shine, depending on customer demand. May be closed on some weekdays.
Required: Zip-liners must be between 50 pounds and 275 pounds. No experience necessary. Some moderate hiking is required between stations. Utility vehicles may be available for those who have difficulty hiking, or for spectators.