From a hanging picnic table and suspended red canoe to wooden barrels, car tires, zip lines and footpads marked with animal prints, the new ropes course at Upton Hill Regional Park in Arlington packs a lot of exercise opportunities into a compact parcel of land.
“We used a small space and added a lot of elements and excitement,” said Paul Gilbert, executive director of NOVA Parks.
Arlington County and NOVA Parks officials on Oct. 15 formally dedicated “Climb UPton,” which has been open since July 31. After cutting a ceremonial ribbon, officials had ropes-course supervisor Aster Minehart of Arlington rappel down from the top of the course and break another ribbon.
The course is unique in its urban location – a short distance east from Seven Corners – and “gives adults and kids a chance to be challenged in a safe environment,” Minehart said.
The $1.3 million ropes course was designed and built by Aerial Attractions Inc. of Squamish, British Columbia, in Canada.
NOVA Parks (the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority) chose Upton Hill Regional Park for the new amenities because the site’s last major renovation occurred in 2006, said Paul Gilbert, the agency’s executive director. A ropes course was a highly requested item in a survey of park users, he said.
The course takes about two hours to complete, including a 30-minute orientation briefing and 90 minutes for climbing. Users must be at least 5 years old and 4 feet tall. Those between 48 and 51 inches in height must have an adult climbing with them, Minehart said.
The course gets progressively harder as it increases in height. Users wear helmets and safety harnesses and are clipped via strong cables to safety lines.
Users ages 5 to 7 pay $19.95 to climb on the course; those ages 8 to 15 pay $39.95 and users 16 and older pay $49.95. Nov. 5 will be the last day the course is open this year. It will reopen in mid-March 2022, Minehart said.
Most ropes courses are a “one-experience thing,” Gilbert said, but Climb UPton’s 90 elements are far more varied and each has its own skill level, he said.
The course’s various climbing elements may be switched out easily and park officials will keep track of the popularity of the different offerings, Gilbert said.
NOVA Parks board chairman Cate Magennis Wyatt nearly had everyone fooled when she facetiously claimed to be an “expert ropes-course, Class A1 trainer,” but said she was not exaggerating when calling Climb UPton the “finest ropes course in the Mid-Atlantic.”
Arlington County Board Chairman Matt de Ferranti mentioned how he had been influenced as a young man by climbing on ropes courses with Outward Bound and the National Outdoor Leadership School.
“When you think about forming your character as you grew from 10 to 25, climbing was a key part of that for many of us,” he said. “It might not have been a ropes course this challenging for me, but one foot after the other in the snow on the North Cascades in Washington state was plenty for me to try to do.”
De Ferranti said he felt fortunate to have had such opportunities and hoped they could be extended to everyone who was growing up.
Chris Tighe, a board member and past president of the Boulevard Manor Civic Association, called the new facility “awesome” and “incredible” and said it would help children develop emotionally and physically.
“This is a testament of when community, government, non-profits and organizations can really come together to hash out some things that are for everybody,” Tighe said.
Climb UPton was part of a $4 million overhaul of the park, which included a playground area, shelter and massive stormwater-detention facility under the parking lot, which releases rainwater slowly and lessens erosion, Gilbert said.
(The effort was not without some pushback from those who said it desecrated existing environmentally healthy areas of the park.)
NOVA Parks planted an oak-hickory forest using species of trees, bushes and grasses that have symbiotic relationships with each other, Gilbert said. The intention was to provide a diverse mix of species that mimic what would occur naturally over a span of centuries, he said.
“This was an experiment to see if we can jump to the end, plant a successional forest and give nature a helping hand,” Gilbert said.