On a sun-drenched day in mid-June, the air is cool after an afternoon shower. The plops of lingering raindrops mix with the nervous chatter and shrill howls of people negotiating a course of ropes and zip lines 40 feet up in the trees of a Maryland park.
Jenny D’Agostino (Com ’03) and her husband, Dan, look up from their conversation in response to a particularly loud shriek. A woman had just launched herself on a “Tarzan swing,” and her screech ends in loud, heartfelt laughter as she swings safely into a net of thick ropes.
The moment provides a metaphor for their fledgling business enterprise, the first Go Ape venture in the U.S.
“It’s jumping off. It’s that Tarzan swing,” Jenny says. “You want to make sure that everything you’ve done is correct … but at the end of the day you still have to jump. It’s still scary and it’s constantly an adventure.”
The leap appears to be paying off. Since the course opened on May 8, thousands of people have climbed, swung, crawled and zipped in the six-acre site in Rock Creek Park.
On this summer day, a bachelorette party of nine women—including two UVA alumni—contribute their share of whoops and laughs as they move steadily through the obstacles.
“I thought it was really fun,” Brittanie Bosselait (Com ’04) says after landing in a pile of wood chips on the final zip line. “It’s a good way to get to know people.”
The D’Agostinos got to know Go Ape while working in London on corporate assignments, she with a dispute analysis firm, he with preparations for the 2012 Olympics. They joined a group of co-workers at one of the ropes courses.
“After laughing for hours, we soon realized that consulting jobs were not for us and contacted the founders of Go Ape,” Jenny says. They set up a joint venture with the British operation, which has developed 27 sites over 10 years in the U.K.
“My dream was always to run something,” says Jenny. While at McIntire, she thought in terms of running a theater, but Go Ape changed her mind. “It was a eureka moment for us. We looked at each other, saying, ‘This was going to be it.’”
Their aim is to provide people with a connection to the outdoors in a setting that combines physical challenges with accessible fun. Safety precautions are paramount, but “there is an element of risk,” Dan acknowledges.
Groups get a 30-minute training session that familiarizes them with their harnesses, color-coded carabiners and the basics of navigating the challenges—climbing rope ladders, traversing suspended walkways, crawling through wooden tubes and zooming down wire zip lines.
There are height and age requirements, but participants don’t need Tarzan-like athleticism. Jenny recalls when her father, in his 60s, tackled the course. “The look of him going down the zip line and landing backwards was, for me, fantastic,” she says, chuckling. Dan says it’s gratifying to see young parents out with their children experiencing the outdoors together.
For one group of D.C. area guys, Go Ape provides a unique outing. “It’s awesome,” says Andrew Schreiber of Rockville, Md. “It’s a different activity for around here.”
Than Nguyen of Vienna, Va., had been on a zip line in Jamaica. “There’s no comparison. The ones there are more touristy, with just a zip line. This one, you’ve got to work for it.”