A major expansion is planned for the Blue Heron zip line that crosses the Chattahoochee River, Whitewater Express owner Dan Gilbert confirmed this week.
The expansion will bring a zip line back across the Chattahoochee from Phenix City to Columbus and create additional smaller zip lines on the Alabama side, Gilbert said.
The zip line, which opened in 2014, is owned by Uptown Whitewater Management LLC, the nonprofit organization that manages the 2.5-mile urban rafting course. Whitewater Express, the only outfitter operating on the Chattahoochee, also staffs and manages the zip line.
“This will make our zip line a real destination,” Gilbert said. “Ours is different in many ways because so many of the zip lines are in the woods and you are going tower to tower and tree to tree. This one is not in woods and it is in the middle of an urban setting.”
Uptown Whitewater Management President Richard Bishop said the new zip line is in the planning phase.
“We are 99.9 percent sure this will happen,” Bishop said on Monday. “We are in the due diligence process right now. We are firming up costs and firming up agreements on both sides of the river.”
Construction could begin early next year, Bishop said. Construction will take 30 to 60 days, Gilbert said. A target opening date is in March or April, Bishop said.
The expansion was the natural next step, Gilbert said.
“When we opened the zip line, we thought it would be an add-on to the whitewater course,” Gilbert said. “And that is exactly what it did.”
By expanding the zip line, it will become a standalone attraction, Gilbert said.
“It is the only zip line that will go from one state to another and back and is one of few that cross a major river,” Gilbert said.
The first phase cost about $275,000 and was paid by Whitewater Management LLC. Whitewater Express funded the project through the fees paid by those who use the zip line. The second phase is expected to cost about $300,000, Gilbert said. It will be funded the same way as the original section.
The existing zip line starts in a riverfront tower just below 11th Street and Bay Avenue in downtown Columbus. There is a shorter zip line that runs south on the Phenix City side. There is also a rope bridge course in the tree tops off the landing tower near the Phenix City Riverwalk.
Plans call for a series of small towers and treetop landing areas to take the zip line along the Phenix City riverbank, across Holland Creek and to a taller tower near the Phenix City Amphitheater, Gilbert said.
That tower will be the launch site for the zip line to go back across the river and end at a new tower near the Splash Pad in front of the Whitewater Express Columbus store.
“This is going to more than double the experience,” Gilbert said. “It will take two to three hours to complete the experience. One of the good things is it will bring them back to the store so we won’t have to get people back from the Phenix City side.”
One of the planned features in a landing area about 90 feet up in a large oak tree on the Alabama side.
“We are really looking forward to being able to have that because it will really put people high in the tree and offer a different kind of experience,” Gilbert said.
The current zip line costs $34.50 per person on the weekends. The plan is to hold the price steady at the beginning, then raise the cost “modestly,” Gilbert said.
“We honestly think it is going to bring more users and that is what we want,” Gilbert said. “We are going to try really hard not to increase the price.”