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Daredevils can soon zip over to new, local aerial adventure

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 11, 2010 - One of the last things we'd want anyone to hurry on is a tower that's 80 feet in the air, from which folks are to launch, reaching speeds of 50 miles an hour. So, no one should have any problems with the announcement that the Caveman Zipline course at Meramec Caverns delayed its opening from May 15 to May 29 because weather conditions held up finishing the last tower. 

Just a few years ago, local zipline enthusiasts had to travel to Alaska or Costa Rica to get their thrill on. Last summer, their travel time was significantly slashed when a new zipline tour opened three to four hours away in Eminence, Mo. Beginning May 15, St. Louis area zippers can get to their favorite adventure in about an hours' time.

A new zipline course is opening at Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Mo. The Caveman Zipline tour will take participants on a fast ride through the trees, and above the Meramec River -- twice.

"It's the only one I know of where you go over a river," said Lester Turilli Sr., Meramec Caverns general manager. "And on that very last zip, at 80 feet in the air, you reach speeds of up to 50 miles an hour."

The First Step Is A Doozy

A zipline consists of platforms, similar to tree houses, with cables running between them. At Caveman, participants must navigate swinging bridges to get to several jumping-off points. They wear special safety belts and other equipment provided by the company, from which they are hooked onto the cable's pulley. Tour guides assist them all along the way.

The idea for Meramec Caverns zipline came from talking with other managers of cave attractions around the country who have added the above-ground adventure to their otherwise underground offerings. The Caveman's six zip runs range from 250 to 1,200 feet in length, and the entire process from instruction to completion takes about an hour and a half. The opening was planned for May 1, but delays will likely push it back until later in the month.

While Turilli's wife, daughter, son and son-in-law all know the drill -- they've been to other zipline locations -- Turilli will be a novice.

"As soon as they complete the whole course, I'm going to try it," Turilli said.



For someone whose job takes them above the treetops, zipline manager and tour guide Jeremy Anderson has an unusual phobia: a fear of heights. Only a few weeks ago, Anderson took the plunge off one of the Caveman Zipline's finished platforms for the first time.

"I've done some rock climbing but nothing like this," Anderson said. "The scariest part is the first step but once you get on the zipline, it's a blast from there."

Now, Anderson is excited to start helping customers overcome any fears and learn the ways of ziplining: "I can't wait; it's definitely not going to be boring."

Nocturnal Zipping Next?

The Caveman Zipline will be open every day until Oct. 31 with hours from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. The cost is $49 for adults and $39 for children 11 and younger. Participants must weigh between 80 and 270 pounds and be in good health. Safety equipment, individual instruction and a dry run mini-zip are provided. Reservations are recommended.

After he tests the course in the light of day for a while, Turilli is considering opening the zipline for nighttime adventures, possibly with lighted helmets and platforms.

"I've got to believe it would be a hoot at night, especially going over that river and through the trees," Turilli said. "That would really be fun."

Nancy Fowler Larson is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. 

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.