533 Carver’s Falls Rd.
Wanted: a thrilling rush and majestic views. Must be within only a short drive from home, and prefer a natural setting. Would like to learn a bit about the biology of the area, too.
Nestled within 55 acres of untouched forest in Fayetteville, NC, ZipQuest gives curious, adventurous and eco-friendly souls exactly what they’re looking for. The land folks glide through via cables and carabiners has been a part of one family for many years. Eason Bryan’s father discovered it in the 1920s, and decided to buy it in order to protect and preserve the property. Aside from the family and a few Girl and Boy Scout troops, it wasn’t accessible to the public until about a year ago. The land was never timbered or developed, until the Bryan boys and their dad went on what they call a “Y-chro[mosome]” weekend.
“We all went zip lining,” Bryan explains, “and my dad made a side comment that we could do something like that on our land. It got my attention, like a dog with its head turned to the side. I started thinking that we really should do it.”
Thus, the men began looking into builders that could construct a zip line to meet the family’s essential criteria to protect the natural environment, while featuring certain areas as the focal point of the tour. Their search led to S.T.E.P.S., Inc., a challenge-and-ropes-course design, construction and guide-training company. According to Bryan, the company created the obstacles so that the fewest amount of trees would be lost. “In some other courses, underneath each zip line is 50 feet of nothing,” he says. “It destroys the look and feel of the tour.”
Thick and lush in all parts of ZipQuest’s adventure, the Fayetteville forest provided more than any ol’ canopy tour (not to mention, zippers never touch the ground throughout its entirety). In addition to keeping as many trees as possible, the ones that had to come down were not wasted.
“We re-purposed many of the trees,” Bryan explains. “The cable spreaders on the bridges, the benches at our check-in, and all of our parking chocks were built from trees we had to take down.”
S.T.E.P.S., Inc., made sure they safeguarded the health of the trees they used for each platform as well. The bolts used only make four penetrations per platform. Once a year, the course is inspected.
“They can [move the] nuts [along] the bolts and the frame can be expanded to allow for the growth of the tree,” Bryan says. “Plus, during building, the drills were sterilized between each tree so that nothing is carried from one to another. S.T.E.P.S. took lots of care.”
The guides take lots of care, too. They each go through 60 hours of training, and must complete a 90-minute rescue recertification each month.
“We also provide them with a manual of the history and geology of our land and the biology of the trees,” the owner says. “We’ve been sending a survey after the tour, and guests’ overall satisfaction is at 96 percent. Their satisfaction with the guides is at 97 percent. With only one year under our belt, we’re pretty happy to hear that.”
I got the chance to experience tree-traveling for the first time at ZipQuest. My tour began with a ground-level safety course. It was simple enough to grasp, yet thorough enough that I felt both confident and comfortable. I could tell it was a “safety-first” mentality with my guides; still, they were fun and easy to talk to, as well as knowledgeable of the course and ecology.
It was a very short trek to the first platform. Although I was nervous (I have a fear of falling), I decided to ditch the scaredy-cat within and go for it. I pushed off of the stump and let the cable take me where it pleased. I found that the ride was smooth, allowed me a view I’d never get from hiking, and offered a welcome breeze on the hot day. Zip-lining is a lot like riding in a convertible, but the feeling is more free. And dare I say it? Way more safe than driving down Wilmington’s Market Street!
The course has eight zip lines, and they each offer a little something different from the last. Our group soared over creeks and encountered many species of plants we’d not normally see. Squirrels, birds and other animals are often sighted as well.
“There’s a wide range of biodiversity,” Bryan assures. “Our property has cypress, which is usually on the eastern side of the state, and mountain laurel, which is obviously from the mountains.”
The Indiana Jones-like rope bridges were over 100 feet long, providing a mentally stimulating experience; traveling to one platform by a zip line lead us to crossing a rope bridge to get to the next. Paired with our guides, who were truly focused on education (in a fun way), it all made for an exciting day.
Three platforms hosted spiral staircases—in and of themselves beautiful pieces of engineering. One unique helical staircase was on Gloria, a 150-year-old gum tree (each tree of the course has a name). The band of metal used for the staircase was shaped to account for the change of diameter in the tree, and each tread is placed in the metal, so there’s less penetration of the plant. “It’s healthier for the tree and a cleaner install,” the owner says. “And it’s the only one of its kind in the world.”
However, the best part of the tour was the focal point that S.T.E.P.S. so wonderfully highlighted: Carver’s Falls. This 150-feet-wide, two-story-tall waterfall is the largest between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Carolina foothills. First, our group crossed in front of it on a 210 foot-long rope bridge I admired every inch of that natural clay waterfall, capturing the cascading water with my camera one step after. The only incentive pushing me forward was knowing if I actually made it to the platform, I’d get to zip above the falls.
ZipQuest has married adrenaline and eco-tourism, thrill and information perfectly. “People use their bodies and their brains [at ZipQuest],” Bryan asserts. “I’d describe it as punctuated adrenaline rushes with elements of education.”
The company offers team-building events for one and a half or three hours, complete with a gourmet boxed lunch. ZipQuest surveys the group with a needs assessment first so guides can tailor the events to meet the objective of participants.
Ranked in “USA Today” as one of “Top 10 Great Zip Lines Across the Country,” ZipQuest is bringing people to Fayetteville from all over the nation—something I can’t say I expected of the military town. Bryan says folks have traveled from Florida and Chicago.
“I took an 85-year-old woman zip lining at the end of September,” he shares. “She had just lost her husband of 60 years in August. So, she brought her kids and grandkids to create a positive and warm memory with everybody. It’s a tool to reconnect with nature and each other.”