Local leaders float the idea of a zip line across the Schuylkill

While debate continues over the suitability of a recreational rope course high in the trees of the Wissahickon, the intensity of the discussion is fueling alternative suggestions.

Earlier this week – amidst a discussion about the Wissahickon project on an internet-based neighborhood forum – a local nonprofit leader added her voice.

“Here’s an idea,” wrote Gina Snyder, executive director of the East Falls Development Corporation.

“[A] zip line across the Schuylkill River parallel to the Manayunk Bridge,” proposed Snyder. “Start up on the [Lower Merion] side and end on the Manayunk side.”

“The Schuylkill Project has been playing around with this idea,” she continued, referring to the Manayunk-based nonprofit that develops river-related opportunities.

“What do you think?” she asked, engendering three responses as of Thursday: one for, one against, and one deeming it moot based upon a technicality.

Exploring the possibility 

While perhaps too early to gauge public response, NewsWorks checked in with Schuylkill Project leader Kay Sykora to see if her East Falls counterpart’s counterproposal is under active consideration.

On Thursday morning, Sykora said that while the idea is in existence, proposals for potential zip lines in Manayunk or across the Schuylkill River have not been developed.

“A lot of the elements aren’t yet in place,” she said, relating that incomplete projects like the Manayunk Bridge rehabilitation typically have priority over any accessory recreational offerings.

Snyder said that she believes in the viability of a river zip line project, and that public discussion could shape the degree to which the project is pursued.

It could also offer an alternative to the disputed rope course in the Wissahickon.

“Since it would be in a built environment,” said Snyder of the proposed zip line, “it would have a lot fewer problems that one in a natural environment.”

Sykora affirmed that while nothing is concrete about the plan, the Schuylkill Project is keeping an open mind about zip lines.

“It’s something we want to look at in the future,” she said. 

Gauging interest in river-related activities 

But this wasn’t the Schuylkill Project’s sole idea for recreational amenities in the Northwest.

In 2012, the Schuylkill Project sent out a survey asking residents about their outdoor recreational habits. It was stated in the email that a coalition of nonprofits, municipalities, and local businesses in both Philadelphia and neighboring suburbs were “exploring a new opportunity for promoting outdoor recreation,” based upon the model of a similar nonprofit organization located in Pittsburgh.

While the results of the survey weren’t made public, Sykora said this week that the proposed recreational consortium is on hold.

She related that after the survey was concluded last year, project leaders came to the realization that a successful organization could not just be limited to Northwest Philadelphia, and would have to be inclusive of the entire city.

Subsequent to this, Sykora said she and others spent a lot of time in discussion with various groups across the city with a vested interest in river-related recreation. Ultimately, it was decided that implementing the project would require significant resources and considerable research.

But according to Sykora, the idea isn’t wholly dormant.

“It’s still out there,” she said. In the meantime, a New York City based company will soon be leading recreational adventures in the area.

Connecting city residents to outdoor opportunities 

Called Discover Outdoors, the 30-year-old company is an outdoor guiding company, according to Sarah Knapp, adventure programmer for Discover Outdoors.

“We kept hearing about the opportunities in Philadelphia,” said Knapp. DO is planning on leading a variety of recreational opportunities in and around the Philadelphia area, with plans said to include hiking, horseback riding and kayaking, along with educational offerings such as photography, map reading, and bicycling classes.

According to Knapp, DO will feature trips both within the city and out, hoping to reach people available for day-long excursions as well as those looking to get away for a couple of hours and not leave the city limits.

A launch party is scheduled for April 30 in Manayunk. In additional to traditional promotional offerings, DO guides will be on hand to speak about the various trips planned for the summer months.

DO’s first Philadelphia event is scheduled for May 4, with a trip to Hawk Mountain followed by a trip to a winery. It’s a unique pairing – vigorous exercise and viniculture – but typical of DO.

“Lots of outdoor opportunities exist near cities on the East Coast,” said Knapp, “and our goal is to connect people to them.”

The event is Tuesday, April 30, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Manayunk Brew Pub. Admission is free, but guests must preregister at discoveroutdoors.com.

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