SAINT JOHN – I’m generally afraid of heights, but I was too busy trying to stay balanced on ropes and wires to focus on being more than 20 feet in the air.
I had made my way through the various levels of difficulty at the recently opened TimberTop Adventures and reached my limit at the “Blue-plus” level. Near the end of the course, I tried the “Tarzan Swing,” dangling from, rather than resting on the seat as my foot cramped and I hit the climbing net at the end of the swing.
As friends going way back, owner David Alston teased me in a good-natured way as I stumbled my way through the courses in the woods of Dominion Park on the west side of Saint John. He and I mused about creating a promotional video, featuring me, about how not to navigate the various challenges along the way.
“I’ll do the ‘Black Diamond’ course next time,” I told him.
“Yeah, that’s good,” he said with a laugh that seemed to say, “We’ll see.”
Alston came up with the idea for the eight-course adventure park – with its zip lines, climbing walls, and high-wire tightrope walks, all high above the ground in an evergreen forest near the city centre – on an “active” family vacation in Alberta.
“We were doing rock-climbing and hiking and caving. It led us to think, ‘what can we do back in Saint John,’ ” said Alston. “When we’re on vacation, we’re always dreaming about ideas for businesses.
“Most of the time it never happens because it’s a lot to build a business, of course, but in this case, we got back and started to investigate. The more we looked into it, the more people gave encouragement, and then we found this beautiful area in Dominion Park. We thought, ‘This could really work.’ ”
Alston’s team, led by operations manager Leroy Vincent, designed a series of courses with varying degrees of difficulty, using terminology similar to the trails on downhill ski courses.
Vincent, a teacher and marine engineer who worked on the frigate program in the 1980s, said the setting will appeal to locals and tourists, and businesses and organizations looking for team-building opportunities.
“What sold me on this opportunity was Dominion Park,” said Vincent. “This is like a [natural] theme park. You have the St. John River. You have Reversing Falls. You have the ocean, a taste of salt water. You have a beautiful beach. It’s a gem.”
Vincent worked on the designs for the courses, comparing them to the work he once did for Saint John Shipbuilding.
“We designed a ship and then followed it through construction. When that ship was launched, what a feeling. You saw something come to life. That’s what this is like. I hadn’t felt that in a long time,” he said.
There are two “yellow” courses that are a suitable entry-point for kids, age five and older. The two “green” courses are a good place for adults to start and then they can move onto the “blue” and “blue-plus” courses. The “Black Diamond” and “Double Black Diamond” courses are for the more advanced, adventurous climbers.
The degree of difficulty varies from course to course, but Alston says they all share common features.
“We have a climbing wall challenge in every course,” he said. “We have lots of different types of bridges. We have zip lines in every course – straight zips and then zip-related challenges. We have the Targan zip, a trapeze zip, and the skateboard between trees. We tried to incorporate elements that are a little bit different.”
As you move from level to level, there are additional physical challenges. But you also have to think about what you’re doing. The best way to tackle the various components of a course is not always obvious. I found out the hard way, having to backtrack or push through when I picked the hardest way to do certain things.
“It’s not just a physical challenge and a chance to enjoy the fresh air and beautiful scenery. It’s also a mental challenge,” said Alston. “You asked me many times, ‘what do I do in this case?’ I don’t know. ‘What should you do?’ You have to figure things out.”
Alston says people will embrace the level of challenges that are right for them, suggesting perhaps that the hardest ones are not for me.
“Double Black Diamond is definitely not for the faint of heart,” he said. “It’s for someone with a lot of core strength, a lot of arm strength. For some, they really want to do something like that. But that’s not for everyone.
“A lot of people will end up working with the yellow, greens and maybe a few blues. But that’s fine. Everyone has got different challenges they want to tackle.”
TimberTop is open yearly between May and mid-November with the potential for special group tours during the winter months. For individual pricing and group packages and other information, check out the company website.
Watch David Alston attempt to beat the unofficial time of 12 minutes to complete the ‘Double Black Diamond’ course.