- Associated Press - Sunday, June 8, 2014

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) - A little pep talk goes a long way on a ropes course.

“Just step off the platform,” encouraged Adam Short. He’s one of the dozens of monitors at the new Adventure Park at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center helping people overcome fears and move through the aerial trails in the trees.

You’ll need someone like him nearby - along with a healthy dose of chutzpah - if you have any reservations about heights.

Bring money, too. At $51 for three hours of climbing, the Adventure Park costs as much as a day ticket to Water Country USA. The price drops for guests younger than 12.

The park opened to the public this month. On May 31, city officials and other guests gave it a whirl.

Mayor Will Sessoms kicked off the adventure when he climbed a ladder, scaled a bridge and sailed along a zip line about 30 feet above the ground. Climbers wear safety harnesses and are connected to a cable throughout the course.

Each trail is like a long chain with different challenges at every link. It’s a path of circular discs, a narrow rope and a tunnel. The elements form bridges between the pine trees, connecting one platform to the next.

“Up here, you can feel the wobble,” said Sherri Miles as she approached a long row of dangling wooden blocks about 30 feet in the air. As she stepped onto the first one, the next one ahead of her bobbed like a buoy floating in a sea of sky.

“It’s a lot harder than I thought,” Miles said.

The course’s trails vary in difficulty. Young children can tackle the purple trails with ease, as 5-year-old River Dorroh proved.

“Awesome,” he said as he faced a beginner zip-line element.

“He’s fearless,” said his father, Trent.

Several levels above, on an expert trail - marked with a double black diamond - a man asked for help finding his prescription glasses. They’d fallen as he traversed a long row of wooden slats. The monitor came to the rescue, finding them intact 40 feet below on the forest floor.

Along another trail, climbers surfed a dolphin, rode a wakeboard and zoomed across an element on a skateboard. One trail ends with a free-fall feature, and an expert trail includes a zip line across Owl Creek.

Whichever trails one chooses, the experience is about “individual challenge and achievement,” said John Hines of Outdoor Ventures Group, the Connecticut-based company that built the park through a partnership with the Aquarium Foundation.

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