Story By: Stephanie Reeves.
Looking out over the Chattahoochee River in Columbus, Georgia, toward Phenix City, Alabama, right before stepping off a huge tower and soaring 100 feet up to 40 mph across the river might seem a little extreme. That’s just what Blue Heron Adventure has offered since it opened in September 2014.
“It’s the first zip line to go across a major river in the country,” says Dan Gilbert, owner of Whitewater Express.
“In two years I think we can easily have 50,000 people coming to Columbus and Phenix City to experience it,” Gilbert says of the zip line and white water rafting.
He projects that in another five to six years there might be upwards to about 100,000 visiting to the area to experience the fun. This will have a big impact on both cities and their development.
Columbus and Phenix City introduced and opened whitewater rafting last year and were looking for new ways to boost tourism and provide an array of options to all adventure seekers.
Elizabeth Hurst, vice president of communications and marketing for Uptown Columbus, says the city wanted to do something more to get the visitors to experience Uptown Columbus and the surrounding areas better.
“We are always looking for innovative things that are going to take us to the next level,” says Hurst.
“There’s something about stepping off that tower and seeing the river, looking upstream and seeing the rapids and getting to see Columbus and Phenix City,” says Hurst. “The skyline of each city is beautiful.”
Gilbert knew that a zip line would happen and within just a year of planning and designing it was built.
“The plan was always to go across the river,” says Gilbert.
He says they started the process just by walking up and down both sides of the river and getting a sense of what the people would enjoy. Each state looked over the plans created, and the project took six weeks to build.
“We did a dual zip line, which is unusual,” says Gilbert. The zip spans 1,200 feet across the Chattahoochee River. “We did side by side zip lines, so you can have your best friend ride at the same time. It makes it more fun.”
The main tower of the zipline is located off 11th Avenue and Bay Street in Uptown Columbus. From there you zip across the river and land at the Phenix City tower.
On the Phenix City side there is a 400-foot dual zip along the riverbank.
Gilbert says many zip lines just go through the woods so going across the river heightens the adventure.
After the building process a company came in to train the staff. Gilbert says they went through “a heavy training process and became certified as zip line professionals.”
Both cities worked closely together on the project since Columbus owns the river up to the high water mark, says Kelli Roberts, director of tourism and finance for Phenix City/Russell County. “There have been a lot of partnerships.”
“Phenix City had a lot of open property,” says Roberts. “It was easy to work together and find what we could bring that would benefit both cities.”
Roberts says Phenix City has more of the nature side of the Riverwalk, making the area perfect for the aerial course portion of the zip line, which features an upper and lower course.
Anyone walking down the Phenix City side of the Riverwalk will be able to stop and watch people as they complete the course on either side and above the walkway.
Phenix City has already seen an impact in the economy since the openings of the outdoor attractions. Roberts says the zip line will shape the future of downtown Phenix City.
They are looking to add more retail shops and dining so those that are enjoying the zip line and rafting can spend more time on the Phenix City side.
“I think it’ll look completely different,” Roberts says of the future plans. “If you moved away today and came back in five years, I don’t think you would recognize this part of Phenix City.”
Roberts says the 2015 campaigns for Phenix City will feature more on the outdoor living side, and they are looking to possibly expand north on the Phenix City side of the Riverwalk.
As for Columbus, Hurst says they have definitely seen the physical and financial impact the developments are bringing to the city as more people are coming in from out of town.
“Often a family may come in if there’s two or more activities and spend the night,” says Gilbert. “It increases revenue for the business. It increases the time spent in Columbus and Phenix City.”
Gilbert says they are already hard at work with the second phase of the zip line and are adding two more zips in December 2014.
“As we continue to develop it over the next few years it’ll certainly be one of the best zip experiences in the country,” says Gilbert.