Ropes course adds adventure to trip to zoo

Zoo staff prepares Jack Himmelspach for the Sky Trail Explorer ropes course.

Zoo staff prepares Jack Himmelspach for the Sky Trail Explorer ropes course. Photo By Stefanie Scott

Aug. 17, 2011

A trip to the Milwaukee County Zoo is always an adventure. But the excitement has hit new heights with the addition of a ropes course, zip line and climbing wall that test visitors' physical and mental strength.

During a staycation last week, my family took a trip to the zoo to try out the Sky Trail Explorer Ropes Course that opened in July. The zip line wasn't open yet, but it began operating this week in time for A la Carte. The climbing wall is expected to open in coming weeks.

I stayed on the ground to capture the action in photos. But I had four enthusiastic volunteers willing to walk the beams, ropes, wiggling step bridges and other obstacles elevated in three levels. My 27-year-old sister, Shannon Rogaczewski of Franklin, cousin Jack Himmelspach, 10, of New Berlin and cousin Samantha Himmelspach, 19, and her sister, 14-year-old Maddie Inman, both of Tosa, harnessed up Friday morning.

I thought the challenge was going to end before it started as the females in our crew were dressed in inappropriate footwear. However, the attraction operator, Michigan-based Ropes Course Inc., anticipated the summer fashion obstacle and the ladies were able to turn in their flip-flops for Crocs kept in bins at the entrance.

Parents of younger children should know that participants must be 48 inches tall to take on the Sky Trail alone. Anyone shorter must be accompanied by an adult.

Test of determination

An employee hooked each of our participants into full body harnesses. Attached lanyards slide into a continuous-belay tracking system. If a participant slips, they fall only a few inches and can step back onto the equipment and continue along the course. My volunteers received a few instructions and headed up a stairway to the course.

The attractions can help people overcome a fear of heights or work on building self-esteem by completing physical challenges at their own pace, said Jennifer Diliberti, zoo spokeswoman.

That was the case for Shannon - after all these years I just learned she doesn't like heights.

"After I did the bottom row I thought, 'OK, I pushed myself enough. I'm done,' " she said.

Jack made it through the lower two levels and headed to the top, but decided to turn around. The course took some strength and concentration.

"It's like an army training base," he said.

Samantha and Maddie made their way to the top of the 45-foot-tall course. They agreed that the "tightrope" walk, a stretch with only the lanyard to hang onto was exceptionally challenging.

They got breaks when they reached the end of each section and waited for one or two of the several dozen other people on the course to clear the next section, Samantha said.

Looking forward to the zip line

Jack said he'd like to give it another shot, but he'd have to work up some courage to try the zip line. The teenagers were disappointed they couldn't swing across the zip line that day.

The 300-foot zip line launches from the top of the course. A zip line uses a free moving pulley to propel a person across a suspended cable - the result is a feeling of flying.

Follow Stefanie Scott's adventures as the Wauwatosa news reporter on Twitter,



WHAT: The Sky Trail Explorer ropes course and zip line are open

WHERE: Milwaukee County Zoo, 10001 W. Bluemound Road

WHEN: Open during zoo hours. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel A la Carte runs from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.

COST: ropes course $7, zip line $12, climbing wall $5, combo pass $20

CONTACT: (414) 256-5466


Local Crime Map



Latest Photo Galleries