Imagine feeling the rush of adrenaline as you safely soar through a forest at speeds topping 35 mph while learning about ecology, geology and history. Guests have that opportunity at the newly opened Shawnee Bluff Canopy Tour in Makanda, Ill.
The first of its kind in Illinois, the zip line tour is located on 83 private wooded acres surrounded by Shawnee National Forest. The tour consists of eight zip lines, the longest stretching more than 1,100 feet, which zig-zags across the property’s bluffs and through the valley. It includes 11 platforms high in the trees, three aerial suspension bridges and two short ground hikes.
“Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour has the potential to significantly enhance tourism in southern Illinois,” says Jerri Schaefer, director of communication at Southern Illinois Electric Cooperative in Dongola. “With our increasingly popular wine trail, bed and breakfasts, farmers’ markets and historic sites, a zip line facility of this caliber will make us even more attractive as a ‘must experience’ geographic location in the Midwest.”
The facility broke ground in December 2012 and opened to the public in April. The three-hour tour experience costs $85 per person. Groups of eight or more receive a 10 percent discount on admission. Guests must weigh at least 70 pounds to participate.
In addition to the tour, the facility includes a welcome center, concessions and a gift shop. Guests can book online at www.shawneezip.com or arrive without a reservation. However, guests with reservations have priority.
“Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour is more exciting and more educational than any other outdoor attraction in the Midwest,” says Dr. Marc Miles, developer of the tour. “People can experience zip lines in any number of places, but we are creating a full outdoor experience that combines the rush of flying among the treetops with learning about the flora and fauna and natural history of the area along the way.”
Canopy tours originated in Costa Rica in the 1970s, but their popularity has grown immensely in the United States over the past several years.
The facility was designed and built by Geronimo Construction in Biwabik, Minn., known for specializing in low environmental impact design and construction. The company demands strict adherence to safety standards and training. It was partially funded by a grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Office of Tourism.
Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour is owned and operated by a group led by Miles and his wife Candy, and employs 45-50 tour guides. Its mission is to provide an eco-friendly, easily accessible, exciting and educational new way to expose people of all ages and experience levels to the beauty of the Southern Illinois outdoors.
As its motto says – “Strap in, step off, soar!”