Canopy/Zip Line Tour History
Canopy/Zip Line Tours in this hemisphere were originally an outgrowth of techniques developed by biologists seeking to study the ecosystems of the Tropical Rainforest. Using a variety of approaches to access the upper reaches of the forest while minimizing their impact upon its ecology, researchers began about 30 years ago to observe and catalog the animals and plants that flourished there and to study their complex interrelationships.
Observation posts and transportation routes through the canopy were established by several means, including Tyrolean traverses and zip lines, rope ascension devices, towers and cranes, suspension bridges, and even hot air balloons. Each of these methods pioneered by scientists continue to be employed in one or another of the many commercial Canopy/Zip Line Tours that have grown up to serve and promote ecotourism in the Rainforest. Some operators have gone one step further and installed aerial tramways complete with enclosed gondolas.
While many tours are quite serious about their mission of promoting awareness and appreciation of forest canopy ecology, many others now operate primarily as vehicles for recreation and amusement: the thrill of the ride is the principal attraction.
Such courses typically feature an interconnected series of traverses and crossings over a route that runs down above a sloping forest floor, valley, ravine, or canyon. Entry and exit may be achieved by
ground-level platforms or by stairways, ladders, and rappel stations. Fall protection is provided through harnesses, lanyards, clips, and trolleys. Riders may also be required to wear helmets. Speed control
and braking may be mechanical, guide operated, gravity induced, or may require effort by the participant.
Guides and facilitators on these courses must master a variety of skills, including client screening, client management, equipment fitting and inspection, course inspection and maintenance, high angle
rescue and course evacuation, belaying, and, of course, effective public speaking.
Though zip lines and canopy tours began as a tool for scientific inquiry and evolved into a means of showing off the forest to the general public, many courses now are designed first and foremost to
provide thrills and excitement. As the Fodor’s online travel site puts it: “There are two basic types of canopy (zip line) tours: one that gives you a chance to see treetop animals up close; and one that lets you behave like them.”
These days Canopy Tours are often also referred to as Zip Line Tours, especially when they are not actually built in the trees of the forest canopy. Such courses are frequently installed on poles or towers,
usually in the middle of a scenic landscape and often as a part of a recreation park or ski resort.
Canopy Tours and Zip Line Tours have become big business, generating some $120 million in annual revenues in Costa Rica alone. The cruise lines which ply the waters along the Pacific coast and around the Caribbean provide a huge market for expansion and have helped spawn much of the recent construction in the Temperate Rainforest regions of the Alaskan Inland Passage. Ski Resorts increasingly install courses to round out their recreational offerings.