Ozark Mountain Zipline to open in Eureka Springs

Thursday, January 17, 2013
Robert and Joanna Nickell

By Don Lee

In the old song, it is the "daring young man on the flying trapeze" who soars through the air with the greatest of ease, but soon it could be you.

Universal Zipline Technology, owned by Robert and Joanna Nickell of Boone, N.C., is in the process of building a zipline here in Eureka Springs and plans to be open in just a few weeks, on March 1.

"It's going to be the largest zipline in Arkansas, with the highest cables," said Robert Nickell. He founded his company in 1991 after a trip to New Zealand. "I was in New Zealand backpacking Queensland Shadow River," Nickell said. "I was driving along the road and I saw what appeared to be a guy floating through the air in the distance. So I drove to where they were. It was a couple young guys. They had rigged a rock climbing harness and were riding it down a big rusty old one-inch survey cable from the 1890s. So my younger brother and I tried it, and I thought, 'I would've paid $100 to do that. And I'll bet other people will too!'"

Nickell was right. Since then he has built ziplines in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Canada, and in Missouri near Branson. "We're about to go to Costa Rica to build one there," he said.

Ozark Mountain Ziplines at Eureka Springs will have its office at 208 W. Van Buren Ave., although the actual zipline will be on Pivot Rock Road, just outside the city limits.

"We decided to have our office in town and shuttle people over to the zipline for two reasons," Nickell said. "For one thing, we wanted to contribute to the city's tax base. For another, we didn't want to create a lot of traffic through that neighborhood, and this way we won't."

The Nickells say they were offered opportunities to build a zipline in Hot Springs or on Petit Jean Mountain but decided on Eureka because they love it here. "As the parents of three children, we are always looking for fun, adventurous stuff to to with them," he said. "We noticed a fading away of the older tourist crowd here, and younger tourists coming, so we decided this was an opportunity we wanted to pursue."

How does it work?

"It is a two-hour adventure canopy tour, rather than just climbing up a telephone pole and sliding down to the ground," Nickell said. "We are 100 percent better than our main competitor in Branson for several reasons. We use the landscape we find. We build platforms in the trees and use natural aesthetics so we don't leave a huge footprint. Plus it's safer. There are no threatening drops, no jerks or bounces. It isn't like a rollercoaster at all. Very smooth. You float like an eagle without having to flap your wings. And you control your own speed."

He described his ziplines as the "highest, biggest, safest and best," pointing out the rider is always connected at two points to the zipline, and that two guides accompany each group at all times.

Nickell added there is very little hiking or climbing involved and no real athletic prowess is needed to enjoy the ride. "We have people from ages three to 85 trying this," he said. "It is a big draw for family reuinons."

He said there will be five low cables and five high cables, and riders may opt for either level, or both.

Locally, Ozark Mountain Ziplines will hire approximately 15 people. "Our guides are certified, trained by us or by other certified guides," Nickell said. "We are big on hiring local people. One of our carpenters is from Eagle Rock, and we got all our lumber at Meeks in Berryville, rather than hauling it in. Our manager will be from North Carolina, because of the training involved, but everyone else will be from here."

The Ozark Mountain Zipline website will be online Feb. 1 at www.ziplineeurekasprings.com. To see a video of what visitors can expect, go to www.goziplineusa.com.

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