Lopez Lake gets new concession: an aerial challenge course opening in August

bswanston@thetribunenews.comMay 24, 2014 

San Luis Obispo County will host the region’s first freestanding aerial challenge course, entirely suspended off the ground, when Vista Lago Adventure Park comes to Lopez Lake in mid-August.

The county Board of Supervisors has approved a 10-year contract with a newly-formed San Luis Obispo company, EcoLearn LLC, as concessionaire to build and operate the adventure park. The concession will be built between the Mustang Waterpark and the Vista Lago swim area on the lake.

EcoLearn co-owner Bill Thoming said he hopes the park will not only be fun but intellectually stimulating, promoting “education through adventure.”

“We’re hoping to get people outside,” Thoming said, “away from video games and television.”

The structure would be built on wood poles with minimal impact to the environment, according to a county staff report. It would consist of a main course of 25 to 30 side-by-side elevated elements, a kids’ course with up to 10 elements, at least four zip lines between the elements and a “Quick Jump” free-fall.

Participants wear harnesses hooked to safety wires and face a series of challenges, such as wobbly bridges and cargo nets held up by wooden poles. Lower course challenges are suspended 10 feet to 15 feet high and an upper course would reach 35 feet in height.

Participants cross each challenge, resting between them on wooden platforms. After about 10 challenges, participants reach a large platform with railings. From there, they may unhook from the wire and rest before continuing by climbing down or riding out on a zip line.

Thoming estimated admission prices will be $12 for the lower course or a single zip line ride, or $55 for 2 1/2 hours of unlimited course use.

Vista Lago Adventure Park will be EcoLearn’s first project. Thoming said he has worked for local moving company Sandercock Moving and Storage for 25 years. His business partner, Scott Schirmer, has owned an advertising company called Adverb Media Group for about eight years, he said.

“We're both successful businessmen, we're not doing this on a whim, we've done our homework and we have the funding," Thoming said.

The county will receive 5 percent of the park’s first year’s gross revenue, increasing by 1 percent for three subsequent years and then staying at 8 percent thereafter. The staff report estimated the first-year revenue to the county would be about $40,000.

EcoLearn has a $2 million property and liability insurance policy and has indemnified the county against any potential claims, Thoming said.

Thoming said he hopes to eventually establish similar aerial challenge parks throughout the state. He said about 45 operate nationwide, none in California. Despite the industry’s novelty, it is safe, Thoming said. EcoLearn belongs to the Association for Challenge Course Technology, which requires in-house safety inspections. The California Amusement Ride and Tramway Unit also will conduct inspections twice annually.

Thoming said he and his partner have attended two annual conferences of the Association for Challenge Course Technology, which included 105 workshops about zip lines and aerial parks. That’s where they’ve learned much of what they know, he said.

Shaun Cooper, San Luis Obispo County Parks senior park planner, said the course will work well with Lopez Lake’s other amenities, including water slides, camping and boating.

“I think for the more active recreational person, this will complement the other types of activities,” Cooper said. “If someone wants to go out to water slides, they can also do the zip lines and some of the more intense activities.”

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