A playground in the trees at Sandy Spring Friends School
By Amy Orndorff
Friday, Aug. 19, 2011
Tarzan has nothing on the children - and children at heart - who swing, zip, climb and carefully maneuver across bridges high in the air at Adventure Park at Sandy Spring Friends School.
It's easy to see why park manager Berkeley Williams dubs the five-acre park "an obstacle course up in the trees." Wires, platforms, ropes, ladders and funky-looking bridges reach 65 feet into the forest canopy and create the illusion of a massive spider web.
Don't be deterred by the challenging appearance. Children as young as 7 can participate, and there are 10 routes of varying difficulty sorted by color. Regardless of age, everyone is encouraged to start with a yellow (the easiest) or green trail (easy), and all must complete a blue trail (medium difficulty) before proceeding to a single or double black diamond (the hardest).
All the paths begin at a central platform where knowledgeable staff members in bright orange shirts suggest routes to match visitors' abilities. There's no wrong way to climb, and visitors figure out their own routes from one platform to the next. Staffers watch from trails on the ground below and offer suggestions only when asked.
Safety is a top priority. Before you step onto the course, you're fitted with a harness and shown how to properly use the two carabiner-like clips. The clips work together, and only one can be unlocked at a time, ensuring that at least one of them is securing you to the wires. Escape ladders are scattered through the park, so if you pick a course that proves too challenging or if a thunderstorm rolls in and the park has to clear out, it's easy for everyone to get back on the ground.
Safety also includes proper attire. Visitors are encouraged to wear comfortable clothing - no jeans - that enables movement. Long hair should be tied back, and closed-toed shoes are a must. Also, until your hands are caked with calluses, you'll want to snag a pair of gloves offered by the park.
The park, inspired by similar setups in Switzerland, opened in July 2010 and has proved incredibly popular. On weekends, it fills up with about 200 people. Want to beat the crowds? Fill out online registration forms ahead of time, and get to the park when it opens at 9 a.m., Williams advises.
On a recent Saturday, the Loeb family of Rockville was visiting the park for the second time. Julia and Robert Loeb watched from the ground as their 11-year-old son, Ezra, and a friend made their way through the course.
"Sometimes you want to help, but . . ." Julia says, pausing.
"Part of the fun is them figuring it out," Robert finishes.
Julia had climbed with Ezra the last time they visited, and she had one little warning for would-be climbers.
"You don't think it's physically demanding," she says, "until the next day."