ZipNOLA offers a new kind of swamp adventure
What is a zipline?
A zipline, also known as a zip wire, is a cable suspended on an incline with a pulley and harness system to allow riders to use gravity to pull them through an area.
Channel your inner croc hunter, swashbuckler or Indiana Jones with a brand-new outdoor venture, launched this past Memorial Day weekend, that has visitors flying high over the swamp. The first and only aquatic, swamp-based zipline course in the state, ZipNOLA’s $1.5 million facility provides adventurers with a bird’s-eye view of Maurepas Swamp’s native plants, animals and ecology with a series of five zip lines, two suspension bridges and a unique spiral staircase wrapped around a more than 100-year-old cypress tree.
The venture is the work of Mandeville residents Shelley and Tyler Richardson, along with Destrehan partners and friends Barry and Kristen Gros. The partners each bring a wide range of professional backgrounds and experiences to the venture, with the team adding elements of tourism, and financial and management skills. Tyler Richardson also owns “Tour Big Easy,” Shelley Richardson and Kristen Gros met working at Merrill Lynch, and Barry Gros Jr. owns Coastal Care Services, a case management company located in Mandeville. According to Shelley, the idea for ZipNOLA has been on their minds and in the works for years.
“ZipNOLA was my husband’s dream before turning it into a reality,” she said. “Tyler previously worked as an airboat captain for another swamp tour company. While riding though the swamp, he would think of different ways tourists could view Louisiana’s hidden gems. He thought a view from above, like from a zipline, would be a new and innovative idea.”
According to an August 2020 report from the NPD Group, Richardson’s innovation is on to something. As the country is moving out of quarantine, but still looking for socially distanced, safe activities, outdoor adventure opportunities are experiencing “explosive growth.” As the report notes, bicycle sales are up 6%, dollar sales of camping equipment have increased 31%, and paddle sports (paddle boards, kayaks and canoes) have grown by 56%.
So how do you put together a never-been-done-before swamp adventure? The answer is, very carefully and with lots of permits. Located along the banks of Lake Pontchartrain near the small town of Fernier, the team began with finding the right location (Barry Gros, a River Parishes native familiar with the area, was essential in this step of the process) and then tackling the puzzle, and process, of putting their dreams into reality step by step.
“ZipNOLA’s conception began about four years ago. We had some significant hurdles, including acquisition of a suitable location with mature cypress trees within relative proximity to the city,” Shelley said. “The permitting process was a major hurdle, taking approximately two years. Lastly, the logistics of actually constructing elevated structures in an aquatic swamp environment required a good bit of imagination. Making things more difficult, was the presence of COVID-19 and the most active hurricane season in memory. We hired a professional zipline construction company to design, engineer and construct the course at our chosen location.”
The end result is a nature- and adventure-lover’s wonderland. The Maurepas swamp is full of alligators, turtles, birds, wild boar, deer, and a vast array of native flowers, trees, Spanish moss and more. The zip tour along the more than half-mile course was designed by Adventure Experience in Dallas and engineered by David Hodges, a professional adventure course engineer located in Georgia.
“Visitors will get never-before-seen views of the swamps,” said Shelley. “There is plenty of Louisiana wildlife to be seen from up above.”
For those that may be nervous about traversing the swamp via zipline, the course has been outfitted with state-of-the-art technology and safety features, and plenty of considerations for visitor’s personal safety throughout the experience.
“Starting with personal protective equipment, guests will be equipped with a harness and a helmet,” Shelley said. “The course itself is state of the art, with the most advanced zipline technologies on the market. Contrary to the primitive hand braking technique, ZipNOLA is equipped with magnetic braking devices, as well as two emergency braking apparatuses, which will automatically stop guests. These innovations remove the possibility of user error and allow the guests a relatively carefree ride.”
ZipNOLA has 12 zip tour guides, each of whom is specially trained in zipline safety protocols and certified in ACCT (Association of Challenged Course Technology) fundamentals and requirements. Each group of guests will be accompanied by two guides throughout the course. Ticket prices are $89 per person, including taxes and fees, for a zipline experience.
According to a recent press release, “Visitors will have picture worthy views of the Maurepas Swamp and Lake Pontchartrain atop the 60-foot tower prior to starting their journey through the swamp. The course will begin and end at our elevated gift shop, which is also equipped with a 2,000 square foot spectating deck.”
For Shelley, the experience offers more than just a swamp tour; it provides visitors the chance to go places they may have never ventured before, with a vantage point that goes above and beyond.
“The thrill of flight is something most dream about,” she said. “Ziplines make this dream a reality. Scenery only enhances this experience, and the Maurepas Swamp is some of the most beautiful scenery this world has to offer.”
Top Five On-Trend Outdoor Experiences*
2. Paddle Sports
5. Bird watching and nature sightings/experiences
*NPD Group, August 2020
72 countries and six continents in the world have commercials ziplines.
North Carolina is the state with the most ziplines — 24 commercial zip lines.
Ziplines in Costa Rica generate approximately $120 million in annual revenue.