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Treetop Course Owner Concedes to Consider Other Spots in Greensfelder Park, Other County Parks

This has been a busy couple of days for GoApe! owner Chris Swallow, who is in town from Maryland to meet with St. Louis media and park users. Tuesday's St. Louis County Council meeting also sent the proposed treetop course in a different direction.

The motto of the treetop adventure course company whose owners sought to build a new obstacle course in Greensfelder Park in Wildwood is "live life adventurously." Maryland-based GoApe! owner Chris Swallow is in St. Louis this week to personally explain the company's newest planned adventure, which targeted a 7- to 10-acre spot in this more remote West St. Louis County Park, and to share the community benefits GoApe! delivers in the other cities in which they do business.

Swallow's personal exploration of the matter—combined with a petition from Greensfelder Park users at Tuesday's St. Louis County Council meeting—prompted him to now seek alternative locations for the park. The online petition currently shows 574 signatures toward a goal of 600.

Eureka-Wildwood Patch met with Swallow in Wildwood on Monday. He seemed sincerely interested in better understanding the issues that critics and local residents have raised about the exact location proposed within Greensfelder Park at a popular confluence of trails, buildings, camping spots and parking areas frequently used by equestrians, hikers and bicyclists.

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"Greensfelder is still the preferred location," Swallow told Patch Wednesday morning. "But we want to be a good partner with all the park's users, and so are open to establishing in other parts of Greensfelder, or another county park."

"Even though our history of working alongside equestrians and horses in three other courses over the past five years indicates no concerns, we seek to have great relationships in the communities in which we exist," he said.

If that means choosing a different spot farther away from horses, it was a concession Swallow said he offered before Tuesday's St. Louis County Council meeting. He said the original, proposed location was mutually recommended by the St. Louis County Parks and Recreation staff.

"The needed infrastructure was there (Greensfelder), the typography was good, and there were other, existing uses in place. Our preference is not to be a stand-alone destination," he said.

Read previous articles for background:

County 'Goes Ape' to Help Save Greensfelder Park in Wildwood

Treetop Park Tabled on St. Louis County Council Agenda

District 7 County Councilman Weighs in on Proposed Treetop Park

Online Petitioners Oppose Treetop Obstacle Course in Wildwood

Swallow said Monday he is in town to address the misconceptions about the GoApe! program. "We are a positive attribute of parks in our prior locations, being active community and park partners."

Swallow said it was never their intention to come into St. Louis or Greensfelder Park without fostering mutually beneficial activities. He points toward benefits GoApe! provides, such as:

  • helping to manage parks by sponsoring cleanup days
  • giving free tickets to underserved people
  • offering deliberately inclusive activities for people with disabilities
  • catering to Boy and Girl Scouts Troops

Swallow said hosting fundraisers with the Friends of Parks groups so that some money stays at the parks in which they operate is a standard practice for them. "These are not a part of our contracts with parks' departments. We do it because it's the right thing to do."

Regarding concerns about increased traffic to Greensfelder, Swallow said they told St. Louis County Parks and Recreation Department staff they were willing to space out the bookings for the course, as a trial. He said 100 percent of admissions are booked ahead of time, so it is something that can be managed and controlled.

"There are not going to be tons of people coming all at once. The busiest day may have 200 people at most, so that might be three to four car arrivals per hour," he said.

Swallow said he and GoApe! representatives reached out to St. Louis County Park staffers after their success in establishing a treetop course in Indianapolis. "We thought St. Louis also would be a good fit for the type of new recreational activity we initiate. Greensfelder Park was chosen jointly by GoApe! and county parks staffers because of the typography," he said.

He said while the course only targeted 10 acres out of Greensfelder's 1,734 acres, they also were cognizant of the nature preserve areas there.

Swallow said the three other GoApe! treetop courses and operations that are near equestrian activity are actually closer to horses than what was envisioned at Greensfelder. "One of the trails goes around the equestrian course, and the equestrians there prefer to go underneath it, for example. In the prior parks, the areas are open to everybody and everyone uses them," he said.

Swallow said the proposed Greensfelder plan had more of a buffer.

He told Patch Monday he was amenable to changing locations, and willing to offer other concession, such as piloting a decreased appointment size to see what actual impacts are.

Regarding concerns about potential noise generated from course participants, he said park rangers in Maryland said they haven’t noticed noise. "One resident who lives near the course told me that he wouldn’t know we were in the park, based only on noise," said Swallow.

"We seek to be a discrete addition to parks."

Swallow confirmed that St. Louis parks were part of the company's Midwest expansion plans. But, he maintains their treetop courses are about more than just revenue generation.

"In other courses, we see three generations of families coming out together to enjoy it as a group. The courses also encompass about 95 percent of handicap challenges," said Swallow.

"Parents often are in tears, because sometimes it's the first time that children with autism have tried to do something physical. Treetop courses are a powerful tool to get people outdoors."

Other parks managers and users are starting to recognize that the courses are one of the few activities that get today's children away from iPads and cell phones, he said.

Swallow said they also work with nonprofit groups, such as Wounded Warriors, to offer free admission to soldiers and their families.

"We are something new. We realize that. We are not a zipline or canopy tour, which take larger areas and some people confuse with us. Imaginations can run a little wild but we hope people realize we seek to be a good community partner," he said.

Swallow said a manager would be sent from one of their prior locations, but 12 to 15 local people would be employed.

He said an initial proposal was provided to the county parks department, but his understanding is that more formal language needed to be authorized by county council members regarding entering a lease agreement.

GoApe! collectively has operated for 11 years in 31 locations. He said with more than 3 million participants on their courses over time, there has not been a single litigation.

While Swallow said he understands the concerns of critics, he also has received emails from local residents in favor of the treetop course. "These are normal, legitimate concerns, and we're happy to address them."

"Other facets that we bring can’t be quantified in dollars. We just ask people to please keep an open mind until we’re operational," said Swallow.

YOUR TURN:  Do you consider it good news that a different location within Greensfelder Park, or that a different St. Louis County Park, is being considered for this proposed treetop adventure course?

MKP December 12, 2012 at 05:59 PM
I visit Greensfelder Park at least once a week to hike, bike and make use of one of the many pavilions. It is a jewel of the city. That said, I welcome GoApe and feel it would be great addition to an already wonderful park. I sincerely hope the vocally minority will not derail the efforts to bring another asset to the park and the area.
Mary Anthonis December 12, 2012 at 06:05 PM
I am pleased this has been tabled by the county, for now. Regardless of Mr. Swallow's explanations, traffic will increase at more than three to four cars an hour. I'm sure they did appreciate that the infrastructure was there, less for them to build. Sounds like they are interested in earning money and exploiting the existing location. I think that there must be another park with infrasturcture, parking and hills in the St.Louis area that does not cater to equestrians they could check into. I really do not want to see people swinging from trees in Greensfelder.
sam damhorst December 12, 2012 at 06:17 PM
I don't want Going Ape in Greensfelder Park at all!! And to the people who suggested keeping it away from the horses and moving it up towards Otis Brown Shelter... No thank you! Don't move it closer to where I live...I want it to be farther away from where I live...so how about NOT AT ALL! I don't want any additional traffic, any additional trash, along these roads...last thing I want is another 200 people showing up on any given day in this area...the parks need money, then they should have tried the simplest way first to generate money, by charging people to use the park before they tried to bring something like this into the neighborhood, behind our backs...I say take this elsewhere....the traffic along Melrose & Allenton Rd. is getting out of hand as it is with people continuously cutting through this area without generating even more traffic with Go Ape. Besides the fact that I pay taxes for these County Parks and I want them to stay the way they are....I suggest Go Ape go buy some property somewhere and build their Go Ape Adventure...Stay away from the parks, especially the ones that have people living right across from them...the last thing I want is groups of people coming in here for your Go Ape Adventure Course....
Eva Brinner December 12, 2012 at 06:19 PM
Message to Chris Swallow: We do not want you in Greensfelder, we not want you in any of our Parks, 'concedes to consider other spots in Greensfelder' - this is NOT YOUR PARK that you can pick your site. These are OUR Parks, we will fight you all the way and We Will Win. We see who you are and what you are up to.....YOU ARE OUT.
Nancy Mueller December 12, 2012 at 06:26 PM
We the people have spoken...you are OUT of Greensfelder. The roads cannot handle this volume of traffic. You are gone.
Beth Braznell December 12, 2012 at 07:10 PM
I camp and ride in Greensfelder a lot. We are blessed in St. Louis to have such great parks, and I understand the need for more revenue. I gladly pay the camping fees when I stay overnight--the facilities are wonderful. I don't want to see the course anywhere near the horse trails, nor do I want to see any part of Greensfelder made unavailable to horses. Mr. Swallow makes very good points in this article. He seems rational and appears to be willing to educate and compromise. So, a suggestion to people on both sides of the issue. Cloaking yourself in righteous umbrage and saying nasty things makes you look like a crank. And cranks don't get the ear of decision makers. GoApe! Is not "gone". As far as they are concerned, what happened Tuesday night is a setback, not an exit. As we see in Congress, two sides digging in their heels get nowhere. Please, tone down the rhetoric. Everyone wants what is best for our St. Louis parks.
John Marke December 12, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Not All Acreage Is Created Equal: Greensfelder is a large park, but most of the acreage is inaccessible even to horses. The 7 acres currently targeted by Go Ape are strategically located at the center of equine activity in the park. The park attracts visitors who trailer their horses from all over the County for endurance rides, children’s fun shows, and pleasure riding. The current equine traffic can tax existing facilities, let alone leasing the same facilities to an outfit that has the potential to sell over 30,000 tickets per year. But you can’t blame Go Ape for wanting this location because they get two toilets and a paved parking lot as part of the deal. At $55/adult ticket, and at 6% of the gross (according to the Post Dispatch) it would take around $1,666,666 in sales (folks, that’s $55 X 30,300 people) for Tom Ott to make $100,000 in sliding scale lease revenue. This assumes two months down time (January and February) due to weather. But don’t make the mistake of dividing 30,300 by 10 months! That’s because more people are likely to use the facility in June, July and August than in other months. Peak Go Ape traffic and peak equine traffic will take place simultaneously and at the same location. My guess is if the deal goes forward as described in the Post, the County will get between $24,000 and, at most $60,000...but nobody really knows because the financials have not been made public.
Renie Tuffli December 12, 2012 at 10:16 PM
The real issue here is giving our public park lands to a commercial company. This sets a precedent for future companies to take our public lands and do with them as they want. A zip line, a water slide, a go cart track -- all so the County Parks Department can get a cut. The major reason Go Ape wants the suggested Greensfelder location is because they get a free building, free parking, public lands, and the Six Flags audience. Who won't go for that? I say no to giving any of our public park land to a commercial company. Why not charge a day rate or a season pass rate to all users of the park -- the riders, the bikers, the hikers, etc. Let's keep our cherished and valuable park lands just that and not turn them into another Six Flags.
Diane Reising December 12, 2012 at 10:48 PM
I agree with the above. I strongly disagree with Charlie Dooley's comment that parks should be crowded.
Diane Reising December 12, 2012 at 10:49 PM
My comment is above.
Marcia Voorhees December 12, 2012 at 10:51 PM
When I hike, bike and ride my horse in Greensfelder, I do so to hear nature and to unwind, it is one of the few parks left in St. Louis where we are able to do this. To have noise, excitement, and thrill seeking activities is to go to many of the local places available. Places that own their property and have gone through proper channels. A business, from out of country no less, should not be able to profit off of our tax paying dollars that go towards the buildings and upkeep for this park or any other park in St. Louis. The right thing for this company to do is to purchase their own property and go through all the proper channels of permits such as you or I would have to do. Everyone who pays taxes should feel this way!
Janie Brandel December 12, 2012 at 11:19 PM
GoApe needs to go home! I will fight to keep them out of any of our parks. A zipline/adventure course needs to be on private property in a tourist area, not on "free" parklands. That's not what our parks were set aside for. Mr. Swallow sounds like a pushy businessman to me, but my real disappointment is w/ the Parks Department for wanting to commercialize the parks when they should be PROTECTING them!
Jack Randall December 13, 2012 at 01:06 AM
Funny how everyone has left their name with their comments except for the first person, MKP, who thinks GoApe "would be a great addition." Hmmm..... This selling out of our parks is wrong. Shame on our parks directors. So sad that everything is about money.
Sarah Martin December 14, 2012 at 12:19 AM
Mr. Swallow, I think you missed the point at Tuesday's City Council meeting so let me clear it up for you. You have barged into our community, went sneaking behind our backs, are attempting to steal from us, and have tried to cram Go Ape down our throats. You have proven to all of us Wildwood residents, especially those of us who live in close vicinity to Greensfelder off of and directly on Allenton Road, what an untrustworthy and bad neighbor you intend to be. You have absolutely no respect for our safety or for our community’s goals. Residents in the same city ward as Greensfelder and those elsewhere in Wildwood have been fighting heavy battles for the last 20 years to keep this area as a rural refuge from the sprawling city and urban areas. I know that when those people who live in urban areas or St. Louis City come out to visit us at Greensfelder and surrounding Wildwood they are captivated by the open untouched space, wildlife, and the peace and quiet this area holds dear. You are not in line with our community’s culture and you are NOT WELCOME HERE. Take your commercial business out of my backyard and place it where it belongs, in a commercial area! continued...
Sarah Martin December 14, 2012 at 12:21 AM
If you were a savvy business man looking to get into Wildwood without buying land, which I see as a cheap cop put for you million dollar business, you would be working with Six Flags or better yet, Hidden Valley Ski Resort for your zip lines. However, I doubt these places would accept the pitiful 10% of your profits you have shamelessly and selfishly proposed to give to our parks. A true friend of the parks would have offered more and a parks department with any back bone would have not accepted anything less than 30% and I think 45% is more acceptable for any business seeking to steal and profit from the use of public land. You are stealing my visitors center, my bathrooms, 10 acres of my park, and thus my hard earned tax dollars. You are anything but a friend to this community and this park. You are a thief. continued...
Sarah Martin December 14, 2012 at 12:21 AM
continued... Bad enough as the above is, you have given no concern to our community’s property values or our safety. Our property values will decline with increased noise at our homes, and increased risk on our roads. You may not realize that land in Wildwood is very much sought after and bought and sold at premium pricing in the St. Louis Area. I assume our Wildwood taxes will increase to cover the expense to fix Allenton Rd., Hencken Rd., Tamara Trail, and Melrose when they break down from the traffic over use they were not built to handle all caused by your commercial business in a zoned non-urban rural area. You also need to buy a calculator. If 200 per day come as you say we can expect in the above article, and we assume they will all car pool 3 people to a car (not likely) 200people/3 people per car= 66.67 extra cars daily on our roads. As you also suggested 3-4 cars per hour in a let us say 9 hour work day would only equal 36 cars daily. Your math is incorrect in the above article, but I am sure that is not a mistake. Thank you for attempting to down play the situation, but you failed. I assume once you get your foot in the door, you will be asking for extended hours, lights, and road way widening to accommodate your zip lines’ needs all again at the expense of our property values and tax dollars. continued...
Sarah Martin December 14, 2012 at 12:22 AM
And heaven forbid should any of my family members become seriously injured or die in an accident on Allentonor the surrounding roads due to increased traffic risks resulting from Go Ape I will hold you personally negligent and responsible. So to reiterate for you, you are an untrustworthy and dangerous neighbor in our eyes and the residents of Wildwood and those who love Greensfelder do not want you and do not welcome you to our area. Leave us alone and go somewhere you are wanted…again if you did not understand the above, that place is not in Wildwood or Greensfelder or any of our St. Louis area county parks! Sincerely, Just another ticked off Wildwood Resident-Sarah Martin
John Marke December 14, 2012 at 02:31 PM
Well done Sarah. Excellent researched and well thought out brief on the situation.

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