Whitewater Express zip line could open as early as Sept. 12

If Dan Gilbert, owner of Whitewater Express Co., has his way, customers could be zipping across the Chattahoochee River on Sept. 12.

That’s the best-case-scenario when Gilbert hopes to have the Blue Heron Zip Line across the river open to the public. The opening could come later.

Several people have taken the 1,200-foot trip already, including Whitewater staff, some in training to work the attraction, Columbus firefighters and members of the media.

One of the first people to take the trip was John Turner, the chairman of the River Restoration Committee who championed the whitewater course project to so many years.

“It is a rush,” Turner said. “Standing on top of that tower, you feel like you’re on top of the world. Then you take that first step

“I tell you, it exceeded all of my expectations.”

Turner said one thing that struck him standing atop the 60-foot tower was the beauty of the river.

“The river is just beautiful from up there, when you’re up on the tower and as you cross on the zip line,” Turner said. “I want to do it again so I can focus more on the view.”

The trip starts with a step off a 60-foot tower erected recently in Woodruff Park on the Georgia bank of the river, once out over the water, zip liners will find themselves almost 100 feet over the surface. The trip takes about a minute, during which riders can reach 35-40 mph.

After riding the zip line, customers can take on a two-level aerial course, all the while still attached to the cable system, so it’s impossible to fall.

After the aerial course, another zip line, this one about 400 feet, takes riders through the forest along the Alabama bank of the river. It drops from 30 feet to 10 feet, Gilbert said.

“You get much more of a sense of speed on the shorter line, because you’re zipping past the trees,” Gilbert said. “Out over the river, there is nothing to give you that sense of speed. It’s more like you’re just floating across the river.”

When riders are through with the zip lines and aerial course, a boat ride awaits to take them back to Columbus.

The $400,000 project will be owned by Uptown Columbus Inc., but paid for and operated by Whitewater Express, which has a 10-year operating contract. Both Phenix City and Columbus will get equal percentage cuts on a sliding scale from 2 percent to 6 percent, Gilbert said.

Gilbert said he has not nailed down exact prices for the attraction yet, but he envisions a “premium package” that involves the entire facility in the $60 range. He also sees packaging whitewater trips with zip line packages being a big attraction, especially for those traveling to Columbus.

“What this does is it makes the city more attractive to people considering where they want to travel,” Gilbert said. “It makes Columbus much more attractive as a destination.”

The age limit for the zip lines is 10 years old while the aerial course will be open to those 5 and older.

“The aerial course is something that mom, dad and the kids can do together,” Gilbert said. “I will probably have a special time set aside just for families to enjoy the course.”

The weight limit for the zip lines will probably be about 275 pounds, Gilbert said. That has nothing to do with the steel cable being able to hold up that much weight (it’s rated at 38,000 pounds) but because someone heavier than that would arrive at the lower tower going too fast.

As it is, there is a hydraulic braking system that sharply decelerates riders as they arrive.

“We have nothing but the best equipment available,” Gilbert said. “It’s top notch all the way.”