- Associated Press - Saturday, June 4, 2016

ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (AP) - You don’t have to trek to Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge to enjoy a long zip line ride anymore.

The longest zip line in Tennessee - and one of the longest east of the Mississippi - is right here in the Elizabethton area, along with other thrills like plummeting 60 feet on a giant swing and jumping off the “Leap of Faith.”

Monie and Janice McCoury are the owners of new adventure park Off the Grid Mountain Adventures at 1825 U.S. Highway 19E. That’s where the highway reaches its highest point as it crosses Holston Mountain between Elizabethton and Bluff City.

To get to the zip line, customers ride an all-terrain vehicle up a very steep slope on the edge of Holston Mountain.

That trip itself is unique: riders are transported by a Hagglund, developed by the Swedish military to go places where no Humvee can go. It’s the only Hagglund for public use in the U.S.

Some communications companies in the Rockies use Hagglunds to get to cell towers and antennas in the wilderness no other vehicle can reach.

Once at the top, riders are hooked up to a 2,800-foot zip line - more than a half-mile. In seconds, they are racing down the line, with the wire giving a loud hum as the wind rushes by. Larger riders can reach speeds of 60 mph.

At some points, the ground is 300 feet below. The rider soon reaches the end of the zip line on the side of a ridge.

But the ride isn’t over.

The rider is switched to another zip line running to a 60-foot tower, and there is yet one more zip line to ride from the tower to solid ground.

Of course, if you don’t want to take that last zip line, you could jump. And you’d have two choices.

One is a rappel and the second is the “Leap of Faith,” which includes about 20 feet of free fall, with a lanyard belay device softly lowering the jumper the rest of the way to the ground.

In addition to the zip line rides, there are also other monster rides.

One is the Giant Swing, which takes two riders up to 60 feet and then drops them. The riders swing like a pendulum, with the first pass reaching a speed of 50 mph.

The McCourys are not newcomers to operating a zip line business.

“I started the commercial zip line in the Southeast,” Monie said. That was in 2008 with Scream Time Ziplines in Boone, N.C.

“That was before there were any zip lines in Pigeon Forge, or Gatlinburg, or Asheville,” Monie said. In fact, he said many other operators came to him for advice.

When the McCourys moved to Bristol, he noticed there were no adventure parks in the immediate area. He resolved to change that at Off the Grid.

While he wants to give Tri-Citians a great ride, he also is sensitive to prices, which he said will be considerably lower than the tourist areas where most of the rides are currently located.

“Pricing starts at $12 a la carte, and for the full package including zip lines jumps and giant swing, it is only $59 and that includes an ATV ride to the top of the mountain, Not a bad deal, since just zip line rides range from $89-$120 elsewhere.” McCoury said.

While the rides look death-defying, McCoury said a lot of safety engineering that goes into them.

He said they were built by Steve Gustafson of Rockford, Illinois, who McCoury said has built many such rides across the country. The poles are all Class 2 utility poles, with their bottom ends placed 7 feet in the ground. The guy wires are also anchored 7 feet under the surface and are made even more secure by 350 pounds of concrete over them.

The zip line is now undergoing the certification process. The rides must be stamped by the engineer, then certified by an independent, third party. McCoury said he hopes the process will be complete in time for the Bristol race.

“The safety of our guests comes first,” McCoury said.

___

Information from: Johnson City Press, https://www.johnsoncitypress.com


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