County residents will soon be able to Go Ape'
Planning Board approves first-time adventure course at Rock Creek park
The county is one step closer to getting a rope-climbing course in a section of Rock Creek Regional Park after the Planning Board unanimously approved the project Thursday.
London-based Go Ape wants to bring its first U.S. franchise to an approximately 6-acre section of the Derwood park near Lake Needwood. Its courses, which are built 40 to 50 feet above the ground, utilize ladders, walkways, bridges and tunnels made of wood, rope and zip lines.
Derwood resident Dan D'Agostino, a Col. Zadok Magruder High School alum, proposed the project to the county's Department of Parks in October 2008 after experiencing one of Go Ape's 22 courses in the United Kingdom. D'Agostino arranged with Go Ape's founders to bring the program to the United States and is the now the company's U.S. director.
"I had an amazing time laughing and sharing good times," he told the Planning Board of his Go Ape experience. "[After that] I knew I wanted to be involved in bringing smiles to people's faces for the rest of my life."
D'Agostino, who grew up a few blocks away from Rock Creek Regional Park, said he looked at other locations in the county, but wanted to bring the course to Lake Needwood because the park holds a "special place" in his heart.
He noted the operation of the course would not affect other users in that area of the park. It would be located near a picnic area and a volleyball court and use an existing parking lot.
Go Ape's designers use natural materials to ensure the course blends into the environment and build adjustable platforms around trees so they are protected and can continue to grow, D'Agostino said. Most of the course will be located in the trees, but materials such as wood chips will be placed on the ground to minimize impact to the forest floor.
He said it would take about two months to construct the course and hopes to have it open as early as April. It would operate for nine months each year and have 12 employees, all of whom would be trained and certified.
"It sounds like its going to be a lot of fun," Planning Board Commissioner Amy Presley said.
Maria Wortman, a Derwood resident, told the board she also approved of the project.
"We just like it," she said. "We think it's going to be a great, fun addition."
Patty Kane, a member of the Lake Frank Trail Committee, said the reaction in her community was a little more mixed.
"We still have some concerns based on traffic and what will happen to the environment," the Derwood resident said.
D'Agostino said his team would strive to protect the forested area.
"We're going to work to create a course that respects Lake Needwood and work to not take down any trees," he said.
Terry H. Brooks, chief of the Parks Departments' special program division, told the Planning Board the county still needs to hammer out the details of a lease with Go Ape.
He said the lease will charge Go Ape a base monthly rent and ensure that a percentage of gross annual profits go to the Parks Department. A park permit is also needed to construct the course, Brooks said.
The final lease will be shared with the Planning Board during a closed session, he said.