Years after the city first floated — and then, under public pressure, withdrew — a proposal to run an "aerial adventure" course through the Wissahickon, officials have finally inked a deal for such an attraction, complete with a zip line. The course will open in the spring in West Fairmount Park, on Chamounix Drive and Ford Road.
Treetop Quest, a Georgia company, will spend half a million dollars to install and operate the facility, where adults will pay $49 and kids will pay $22 to $39 (depending on their ages), to spend 2½ to 3 hours on a course suspended in the tree canopy of a stretch of Fairmount Park that officials say is currently inaccessible and choked with invasive plants.
Elements of Treetop Quest attractions elsewhere include walkways suspended by ropes, climbing features, zip lines, balance beams, and obstacle courses. Although there are similar attractions near Philadelphia — Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown has a course — the company's closest location is in Georgia.
Under legislation clearing the way for the attraction, the city will get $20,000 a season, a 4 percent cut of the revenue, and a thousand free passes to distribute to kids in Parks and Recreation summer programs.
Marc Wilken, director of business and event development for Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, said revenue was not a primary goal.
"Our mission is to try to find creative ways to engage Philadelphians in interacting with our park spaces in a fun, playful way," he said. "We're definitely driven to try to bring more kids into park spaces through creative programming."
The attraction will include new trails, environmental-education signage, and two courses: one for children as young as age 4, and another for people ages 10 and older.
Treetop Quest was the only company to respond to a request for proposals. The city's ill-fated 2013 proposal for the Wissahickon would have used a different company, called Go Ape. The only other site the city had considered was in Pennypack Park in Northeast Philadelphia, Wilken said. Officials concluded that the Fairmount Park site was better situated, given its proximity to I-76.
In the Wissahickon, advocates had feared a course would be detrimental to trees and wildlife in the park. The Urban Forestry Division of Parks & Recreation has developed an environmental plan for this project and anticipates no negative impact.
Elizabeth Moselle of the Fairmount Park Conservancy said this iteration drew immediate community support. "That particular area isn't really used," she said. "It's just woods."