Forever Florida's Zipline Safari takes guests on a thrill ride in the treetops
Sometimes ecotourism means camping out in the jungles of Madagascar. Other times, it's whale watching in Indonesia. Today, as I glide through lush forests at speeds up to 25 mph, ecotourism equals ziplining in Osceola County.
And I'm enjoying every minute of it. As I climb the tower to the first "zip" at Florida EcoSafaris at Forever Florida, a 4,700-acre wildlife conservation haven, the guide explains that this Old Florida parcel of land actually includes nine beautifully preserved ecosystems.
Let me be upfront with this: I'm a fan of almost any activity requiring a waiver and helmet. Even so, many types-from 8-year-olds to grandmothers-have found this thrill ride enjoyable; as long as they are not afraid of heights.
As for me, I have no hesitation as I hurl myself off the launch pad. Between the "whees" and "wahooies," I take in deep whiffs of jasmine and sounds of nearby owls. The surrounding lush and rugged landscape, however, is hard to focus on while I'm whizzing through the treetop canopies. My eyes are peeled for bald eagles and black bears, which are both known to roam these parts.
Conservation is, in fact, Forever Florida's raison d'être. The owners, Dr. William and Margaret Broussard, lost their son to Hodgkin's disease nearly 20 years ago. The last wish of the 29-year-old-a wildlife ecologist and biologist-was that they protect the surrounding ecosystems. In turn, the couple painstakingly amassed the Forever Florida property, parcel by parcel, from the more than 500 people who had snatched it up during the 1960s and 1970s.
Now, with 4,700 acres, they have a significant focus on minimal disruption to the environment, and the whole zipline system was built and is maintained with that focus in mind. Not coincidentally, some of the profits from Forever Florida's eco tours are donated to the conservation effort.
At the end of the session we make our way back to the safari buggy, a swamp mobile made of recycled car parts. And, as if the zipline weren't cool enough, we trot down a section of the Florida Trail, one of eight national historic pathways running from South Florida to the Panhandle.
The ride back offers plenty of sights. To the right: the largest herd of Cracker Cattle in the state, a critically endangered breed that the Broussards are committed to protecting. To the left: bromeliads above and neon-green duckweed crowding the ponds below.
These wide-open spaces are completely untouched and exactly what they were intended to be. If ever there were a place begging you to savor the tonic of nature, this is it. No doubt, ziplines have come a long way since my dad built one off our South Carolina treehouse in the early 1980s. But the thrill of gliding through the trees is exactly the same.