Ron England of Envalish Recreation, LLC, plans to provide a place for children and adults to play on swings, zip lines and climbing apparatus while enjoying a natural, wooded setting. England is working with internationally known building firm Outplay Adventures to build the region’s newest aerial adventure park, Cape Fearless Extreme, close to Riegelwood.
Outplay Adventures has built 16 aerial parks in the U.S., plus “three or four in Canada,” England estimated, “five or six in Europe and some in China and the United Arab Emirates.”
England received word Tuesday that his permits from the county had all been signed. Building materials are being delivered daily, and his eight building crew members have been pruning and cleaning up along the course since last week. “Life is good,” he said.
Years of planning
Envalish Recreation chose the site close to the Brunswick County line very carefully, looking in areas that were close to busy tourist destinations but that were not yet saturated with development. Riegelwood’s proximity to busy beach routes made it favorable.
“Then we looked at population centers,” England said. Company officials hope to attract year-round guests who may not be on vacation but who are willing to make a day trip from places such as Fayetteville and Wilmington.
Planners also considered the presence of colleges, universities and military installations within a reasonable radius.“Then we looked at the places on the map where all those circles overlapped,” said England. Riegelwood became the frontrunner for the new construction location. The company asked a Wilmington real estate agent to screen pieces of land meeting specific criteria. Crucially, said England, “We had to choose a place with the right trees.
“Two years ago we came down and looked at about 20 properties,” England continued. When he and his partners toured the tract on Neils Eddy Road, bordering the Cape Fear River, “We kind of fell in love with it,” he said.
Envalish sent nationally certified arborist Randy Pound to measure and evaluate the trees that could become part of the course. Pound said that 95 percent of the trees he examined were loblolly pines. He was looking for large trees with strong root bases and sound trunks free of cavities. He was pleased to find “an abundance of good, healthy trees.”
Pound is an expert in tree preservation. Decay or disease would eliminate a tree from being part of the course. “Our livelihood depends on the health of the trees,” said England. “If he (Pound) says a tree isn’t good, it’s out of the equation.”
Unlike many aerial parks that are built on poles, the Cape Fearless course will be supported by living trees, and Envalish takes great efforts to avoid injuring them. Pound and England described how wooden platforms will be clamped to tree trunks using adjustable threaded bolts that allow park engineers to adjust the compression as the trees grow.
During construction, “there is no heavy equipment rolling over the tree roots because that compacts the roots, and trees can die from compaction,” England said. Crew members use no spikes on their shoes as they walk up the tree trunks carrying their building materials.
Watching experienced builder Todd Clear hoist himself up a pine tree, England said, “Todd makes it look easy, but it takes a lot of strength and coordination.”
By avoiding large machinery or other potentially damaging methods, England and the crew are investing extra muscular effort in construction so that park users can enjoy maximum shade along the course.
“We know summers here are brutally hot,” England said. He pictures Cape Fearless becoming a retreat from the sun for travelers who are sunburned or “beached out.”
Wildlife will still have plenty of room in the brush alongside the course, too.
Readers who have tackled the aerial obstacle courses at Shallotte River Swamp Park may wonder how Cape Fearless compares. England said that Cape Fearless will offer similar components, but in a “more linear” layout.
“There are different types of parks, but no one is really better than the other,” said Chris Sherry, another manager on the project. Sherry is the member of the team who suggested the name Cape Fearless Extreme. The Shallotte River park more or less spirals up with one course above another within a small footprint. At Cape Fearless, “you can get lost in the woods,” he said.
Of course Sherry only means that the visitors to Cape Fearless can experience the pleasant sensation of being surrounded by woods as they climb, crawl and zip deeper into the property. The adult course will be over half a mile long. With guides stationed along the way, no one is actually going to get lost.
Envalish is serious about safety. Visitors really can be fearless as they step out onto a wobbly bridge or grab hold of a zipline: each person on the course is securely belted into a body harness suspended from a stout overhead steel logging cable. It is impossible to fall off the course, and any guest who behaves unsafely toward another is subject to immediate eviction from the park.
The support cables have a breaking strength of over 24,000 pounds, or the weight of two school buses. “The trees and the cables don’t even know” when people are climbing on the course, England said.
In fact, Pound pointed out, the cables will help to stabilize the trees in windstorms. Hurricanes Sandy and Maria destroyed many of the trees along the sides of similar courses in Pennsylvania and Florida, but none of the cable-secured trees came down.
Once platforms, cables and obstacles are in place, England said, crew members will test the courses multiple times a day for several weeks to make sure that users ranging from 70 pounds to 300 pounds can safely navigate the course’s angles. “We want people at both ends to move at the safe, right speed,” he said.
Cape Fearless Extreme’s website specifies participant age and height requirements and the following dress regulations: Sturdy shoes with closed toes are a must. Jewelry and other dangling items are discouraged. Clothing should be appropriate for the weather conditions and should fit close to the body. Long hair needs to be pulled back. In other words, a trip to Cape Fearless will be an opportunity to leave your cell phone and high heels in a locker and go act like a kid again.
“Our reservations are rain or shine,” says the park’s website, www.capefearless.com. Zip-lining and playing among the treetops are actually “more fun in the rain,” England and Sherry said, “especially if it’s hot.” Thunderstorms are another matter, however.
Park personnel monitor weather all day and are prepared to evacuate visitors at any sign of danger. At the company’s Skytop Lodge course in Pennsylvania, said Sherry, “we’ve evacuated 140 or 150 people out of the trees in 10 minutes. We had to get them down off the upper slope of the mountain, too.” Speed evacuation skills will be a prime objective during employee training.
Guests who are evacuated from the wires due to lightning will be allowed to resume climbing once the danger is past.
In addition to performing mass evacuations, all guides on the course must become able to scramble up a pine tree using ropes and bring down an individual guest who for whatever reason becomes incapable of going forward.
Participants ages 10 and up will climb over obstacles, cross swinging bridges and hang from overhead rings as they progress through a series of four mid-air obstacle courses.
The courses become more challenging and higher off the ground along the way. Users may complete all four courses or may return to earth at the end of any one of them, but they may not return to the course once they come down.
A separate kids’ area will include scaled-down obstacle courses closer to the ground for children ages 7-11. Children, unlike adults, may go through the course twice for one admission ticket.
“We want to give people the kind of fun experience they had as children, swinging and climbing in the trees, with no danger except getting a little sore,” England said. “We want to give people the chance to be successful. If we wanted, we could make our courses so difficult that only the most fit and confident people could finish them. But what good would that do? We want to make something that most people – if they try – can finish.”
“Even a person who’s afraid of heights, and they go up and just do the green course, then come down, that’s a success,” England said. “It’s all about success.”
Cape Fearless Extreme will open April 14, and it is already possible to make online reservations. Admission is a splurge, at $25 per user on the children’s course and $47.50 per user on the adult course, Monday through Friday. The adult course costs $50 on Saturday and Sunday. Season passes will be available that will make the cost per visit lower for those who want to return several times in one season.
England said that he and his partners “have been embraced up and down the road,” receiving “a lot of local support” over the past year. They want Cape Fearless to be “very active with the community.” As a special early-season offer, they will give a 10 percent discount on visits by Columbus County residents who reserve by March 1 and visit the park between mid-April and mid-May. The word “COLUMBUS” will be the code word to take advantage of the savings.
England estimates that Cape Fearless will have a year-round full-time staff of three or four people, with a year-round part-time (weekend) staff of another five or six and as many as 20 working through the busy summer season.
Cape Fearless will be located at 1571 Neils Eddy Rd. in Riegelwood. The phone number is (910) 854-0545. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.