Beginning this summer, brave visitors to Fontenelle Forest will be able to climb, swing and zip their way through the nature area’s treetops.
Construction has begun on a $1.6 million aerial adventure park that will challenge children and adults to navigate tightropes, suspended wooden platforms and ziplines.
The park, TreeRush Adventures at Fontenelle Forest, will feature two areas: a main adventure park geared for adults and older children, and a kids park ideal for explorers ages 4 to 6.
The attraction, expected to open in June if weather permits, is being built and paid for by Adventure Development Team, a national company that specializes in designing, engineering and building challenge courses. The park will be operated by TreeRush, which will share proceeds with Fontenelle Forest.
Molly Mullen, Fontenelle’s spokeswoman, said park administrators hope to net about $50,000 a year from the adventure park, which would go to the forest’s operating budget, including its conservation efforts. Admission to the park will be a separate cost from the forest.
An adventure park has been part of Fontenelle Forest’s master plan since 2014. Mullen said research at the time had identified an underserved demographic: those in their 20s and 30s, many of whom don’t have children and haven’t been to Fontenelle since grade school field trips.
“Getting out into one of the largest forests in the state is really important because that’s where your connection (to nature) begins, and when you connect, you understand, and when you understand, you want to learn more, and when you want to learn more, you want to protect it,” Mullen said.
Kema Geroux, community relations director for TreeRush, compared the adventure park’s courses to those of a ski resort. Some will take climbers higher than 50 feet and require more stamina and skill than some of the easier courses designed for children.
Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates
Receive a summary of the day’s popular and trending stories from Omaha.com.
“What a great way of bringing people into Fontenelle Forest who might not come for traditional programs,” Geroux said.
The main part of the park, for older children and adults, will have seven courses. Similar to ski trails, the difficulty of each one is designated by a color: Yellow courses are the easiest, green are intermediate, blue are advanced and black diamond are the most difficult, requiring the most balance, strength and stamina.
The kids park will have two courses that allow guardians to walk alongside or hold onto their young ones.
Park guests are strapped into a full-body harness equipped with specialized safety gear to keep them attached to the courses. After a safety briefing and coaching session, climbers choose which course they want to explore from various platforms attached to trees.
Many of the courses criss-cross one another at different heights. Geroux said that setup allows groups of friends or families to choose different courses while still being able to interact with one another.
TreeRush will not affect Fontenelle’s oak restoration efforts, according to the company. It hired Verio Planning and Design, an architecture firm with a focus on ecological design, to conduct an environmental impact review, which concluded that the building and operating of the park “would have no negative impact on ecosystems, threatened and endangered species and/or species of conservation concern,” according to TreeRush.
The review used resources developed by the Nebraska Natural Heritage Program, including the Nebraska Conservation and Environmental Review and the Crucial Habitat Assessment Tool for Nebraska.
The 5-acre park will be near the forest’s Nature Center, which will be used for registration and harnessing. Guests must make online reservations, which will limit vehicle and pedestrian traffic on Bellevue Boulevard, according to the company.
Fontenelle Forest, which encompasses 2,000 acres and more than 19 miles of trails, plans to open an overflow parking lot in an area northwest of the Nature Center on Bellevue Boulevard, which could add space for 150 cars.
Tickets to the park are sold in time increments. Geroux said it can take about 40 minutes for guests to get into harnesses and listen to instruction. Once that phase is complete, a ticket purchase allows two hours to explore the courses.
The time to complete each course depends on the skill of the person, Geroux said. More adept climbers may be able to finish the easiest course in 10 minutes.
The base price for general admission tickets will be $18 per person ages 4 to 6, $39 per person ages 7 to 11 and $45 per person ages 12 and up. The rates are the same for members and nonmembers.