Summer Guide 2016: Climb time at TreeHoppers (Update: Video!)

Testing limits in a Dade City aerial ropes park.

TreeHopper tips

• Statistics are your friend. Operators are licensed to do what they do, and the park infrastructure and equipment are regularly tested. Chances of a harness breaking or a bridge collapsing are astronomically low.

• The easier courses — the yellow and green levels — aren’t too much different from a hike. The blue, black and double-black levels offer elements challenging enough to make it seem like conquering them is a death-defying feat (or at least one that could result in a few battle wounds you’ll brag about at the office Monday). For instance, jumping off a 50-foot platform. (Don’t worry, you’re attached to a mechanism that “catches” you and slowly lowers you to the ground after about half-second of freefall.)

• Wear closed-toe shoes and lightweight, comfortable clothing. The harness you’re strapped into will accentuate the heat when the temp is anywhere north of 70 degrees.

• Three-hour TreeHoppers tickets cost between $10 and $49. You don’t need a reservation, but it is recommended that you call ahead.

• Aerial ropes course parks like these aren’t able to operate for at least half an hour if there’s been a lightning strike within a certain radius, so going on a day when storms are predicted (or on a summer afternoon as opposed to morning) could result in you sitting around for a few hours to wait for the weather to clear.

• If you go later in the day, LED lights allow you to play after sundown.

• When you buy your ticket, the cashier will likely ask if you want a wristband that grants you unlimited bottled water (available in coolers between courses). Buy it. It’s only a few bucks, and staying hydrated is key.

• There’s a new snack shop on property, so we recommend fueling up with a Clif Bar; these courses may not involve intensive cardio, but they can tax your muscles quite a bit.

• If you haven’t seen the inside of a gym in months, steer clear of the tougher courses. They require upper body strength, agility and stamina and your non-gym-going ass will just hold up the line on the tougher elements.

• Ditto if you smoke or are are particularly hung over.

Kate Bradshaw

TreeHoppers, 27839 Saint Joe Road, Dade City, 813-381-5400,

There are no mountains in sight, but, dammit, I need a neat word for this bug I’ve caught 25 feet above the ground in Pasco County.

How does swingineer sound? Wait, no.

Obstaclineer? What about ziplineer, or maybe the all-inclusive climbineer?

No matter how you identify, TreeHoppers caters to all types of fun-seekers off Dade City’s Saint Joe Road, even those who’ve never done anything close to standing on tree-flanked platforms in the middle of an old Florida forest. I took my first jaunt last weekend.

The family-friendly adventure park, which opened back in September, is a mix of aerial obstacles and zip lines with a side of self-discovery. Before geared-up guests are permitted on any of TreeHoppers’ eight courses, they undergo a 30-minute briefing on the basics of equipment and safety. Folks get familiar with terms such as “elements” (the zip lines, rope bridges and other obstacles that make up a course) and “tweezle” (a fun-to-say safety measure that keeps your harness secured 24/7), then apply what they’ve learned on a ground-level practice course.

It didn’t take long for my partner-in-climb and I to make our way to the actual your-existence-is-really-in-your-own-hands-here-so-don’t-screw-this-up courses. Unlike similar attractions, in which a guide leads you through each element, TreeHoppers allows guests to explore its courses freely (this was super-intimidating at first), building up their difficulty tolerance and going through this solo summit of challenge and achievement as they move from level to level. You’re instructed to call out “Staff!” if you need help from park monitors or guides as you hop among the grove of live oak trees.

The courses — color-coded as yellow, green, blue, black and double black like ski slopes — range from easy to very difficult. While we chose the simpler routes as first-timers, we came across elements that included an unexpected ladder (I wasn’t planning on climbing any higher than we already were), stand-up swing, zig-zagged log-to-log bridge and multiple tightrope-like obstacles.

There’s not a set technique for crossing each element. You figure it out as you go, albeit shakily, and, sometimes, well, sometimes you come close to falling to what feels like your death (see sidebar) — but it’s all for the love of the outdoors.

Seriously, give it a go. This place could become your new summer obsession.

Video by Chris Fasick

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