Over the past decades, zip lines have gone from an exotic experience to something you can do at almost every amusement park and vacation spot in the world.
They have become so popular that you can rent one for your party, if you like.
But “no longer exotic” does not mean “no longer fun.” Zip lines still offer the same thrills they always did, flying along far above the ground, enjoying the view while your heart races just a bit at the thrill of it all.
But where did it all begin?
Zip lining has been around for centuries because people living in mountainous regions soon learned they needed a better way to get from that peak over there to that other one on the far side of the valley.
Zip lines began, in another words, as a transportation system.
Among the places where zip lines were used is the Yunnan Province of China, where locals used zip lines to cross rivers in the Nujiang Valley. They have since replaced those with bridges, not as much fun but a tad bit safer.
H.G. Wells even mentions a zip line in his 1897 novel, “The Invisible Man.” He called it an “incline strong.” And in Australia, troops used zip lines to carry goods and supplies over tough terrain.
It took biologists to bring zip lines into the forest.
When they began the tough task of trying to document all the various fauna and wildlife in the forest canopy, biologists realized that a much easier way to get around would be by zip line. They used zip lines to move through, under and above the canopy, getting a much better view of the wildlife.
Most credit Donald Perry, a graduate student at California State University, for creating the zip line while studying the forest canopy in the 1970s. He had already built platforms in the trees and developed a rope and pulley system to move between platforms without having to go back to the ground.
Cool, right? People certainly thought so. And that’s what led to zip lining as a recreational activity.
The idea of using zip lines to take an adventurous tour of a forest originated in Costa Rica, according to most accounts. Not only did it allow people to get a unique and thrilling view of the forest, but it also was eco-friendly tourism.
As noted by Costa Rican newspaper The Tico Times: “Costa Rica did not invent the technology that allows a heavy thing to slide down a rope. But Costa Rica figured out how to make it fun.”
Actually, though it was a Canadian businessman, Darren Hreniuk, who built the first zip line in Monteverde. Called the Original Canopy Tour, it is still in operation today.
From there, zip lines began getting built in locales around the world, from mountain regions to beach towns.
And now, in your own backyard. That’s a long way from those mountain folks swinging across the valley, but it’s still just as fun.