Ziplines Unzipped

Exposing the underside of ziplines…

Is there a secretive plan underway to develop your local nature area?

I did this illustration for my Federation Forest Project. We were trying to promote meaningful nature connections for children.


Do you live in a community with a natural area…a place to escape the asphalt-covered and plastic-wrapped world? Somewhere close to your neighborhood, a peaceful place with trees and birds where you can go on a moment’s notice and get a quick dose of Vitamin N?


Ziplines are on the way

Your nature area may be targeted for development, and you may not even be aware of it.

Canopy zipline installations are being constructed in community parks and nature areas all across the country, and many people are being caught unaware—not even hearing of the plans until they are essentially done-deals.


West Seattle stopped a zipline plan

In my own neighborhood in West Seattle we were surprised last summer to learn of a Seattle Parks Department plan that had been in the works for over a year to develop Lincoln Park—a magical place of towering firs and cedars—with a zipline right in the middle of the remnant forest. Lincoln Park is considered by many to be the crown jewel of Seattle Parks—a place where you can wander through quiet forested paths and enjoy sweeping views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

When West Seattlites heard about the plan, we were furious.

Luckily, we were able to move fast and organize an opposition. At a community meeting of over 200 people, only one person spoke in favor of the plan. It only took one day for the Parks Department to announce they were shelving the plan for Lincoln Park. But, apparently they are still considering developing other parks with ziplines.

In many other places around the country, people are not so lucky. They either didn’t hear of the plan until it was too late, or were unable to convince their local officials of their opposition.


“Hey! Ziplines are fun. Geez, you tree-huggers drive me crazy! You’re always against change and against fun! You care more about a few birds and bugs than you care about people!”

Not at all.

A true appreciation for nature is looking closely—not just taking a thrill ride.















I believe that people need nature in their everyday lives. My concern is not just for plants and animals, it’s also for people—especially children who need daily exposure to nature—and for future generations. They will be living in a very different world where nature will be a lot harder to find than it is now. We should preserve as much as we can for them. They are going to need it.


8 Reasons to think twice about ziplines


1. High-Cost/Low Return

Only wealthier people will be able to afford zipline admission price. Many communities that are struggling with budget woes will be seduced by the idea of easy money from ziplines, but in West Seattle’s Lincoln Park, the city was only to receive a tiny sum in exchange for selling off the rights to a rare, prized nature park to a private company.

2. High-Impact for wildlife

The tree canopy is often a last refuge for birds and other creatures. When we extend our footprint up into the trees, we are intruding into one of the last places many species can find the habitat they need. When ziplines are installed, areas are cleared of trees and understory, habitat is fragmented, and fences are built.

3. High-Impact for people

Noise, crowds, parking congestion. Lots of screaming. Everyone screams as they zip.

4. Only for a select few

Sure, they’re fun, but only for young, able-bodied people. What about older people, the disabled, or children too young to ride?

5. Not a true nature experience

Zipline development is eco-tainment masquerading as a nature experience. It’s more of an amusement park experience than a true connection with nature.

6. Not a challenge course

True ropes courses or challenge courses are about problem-solving and group cooperation. Ziplines are simply hooking up to a device and letting go. It’s a thrill ride, not a challenge course.

7. Not what we should be leaving to future generations

In the coming generations, people will be living in more crowded communities and their opportunities to travel to distant nature parks may be much more limited than what we enjoy today. We need to employ foresight to leave them the nature they will need—close to where they live. Nature parks were left to us, and we have the responsibility to preserve the legacy for others.

8. Planned in secret. Makes you wonder why, doesn’t it?


4 easy things you can do to help preserve your natural area

1. Be proactive. Contact your local Parks Department or nature area and ask them if they are considering a zipline.

2. Form a Social Media page devoted to preserving your natural area—if there is a zipline plan in the works, make it known to others.

3. Form a Friends Group

4. Promote true connections with nature in your community. Visit your nature area, take photos, share with friends.


What do you think? Have you had an experience with a zipline proposal in your favorite nature area?


8 thoughts on “Ziplines Unzipped

  1. Hi Denise, I’m an artist and nature activist myself, totally in agreement with everything you are saying. I also very much enjoy your illustrations! Maybe I’ll see you at the County Council meeting tomorrow night!


    • Thanks, Gwyn. I think you might be referring to a meeting in St. Louis? I’m in Seattle, actually, but I’m watching events happening all around the country. There are some troublesome cases of ziplines being built at the expense of some really rare natural areas, for example, a rare hardwood hammock woodlands in the Florida Keys. It’s a growing problem because communities struggling with budget woes are tempted to exploit nature areas…and ziplines are a quick and easy way to do it. Environmentally sensitive, they are not.

  2. You are SO right! I refused to go on a zip line in Costa Rica – people thought I was scared but I objected on principle. As you say, it’s a thrill ride, nothing connects you to the beautiful areas you’re zipping over. You don’t see any wildlife because it has been scared away and you are above the trees not having any experience of the forest. I hope you can help “zip up” a few zip lines!

    • Yes, Vreni, I’ve heard the same thing about the ziplines in Costa Rica. People say they are fun, but that you don’t see a single critter of any kind – they’ve long since left. Costa Rica is famous for it’s eco-tourism, but they are beginning to realize the serious impact it’s starting to have on their environment. I hope they do something about it before it’s too late.

  3. What a great, informative post…. And new to me. Thanks so much for sharing; love the artwork you provided. Here’s to hoping more are educated before such structures are built, to the detriment of wildlife and the entire natural area.

    • Thanks, Christina! Since you are blogging about ecosystems in Florida (with gorgeous posts and artwork), you might be interested to know about zipline proposals in your area. A rare hardwood hammock in the Keys is one. A town wants to promote tourism (silly me! I thought Florida already had tourism!), so they plan to put a zipline course straight through one of the last of these rare forests. Check out

  4. A Friend’s Group or a Social Media page both seem like a good place to start
    as a way to express concern for the zipline problem. There should be a lot of
    support.. .. (the turnout for opposition to the Lincoln Park zipline proposal was impressive.) Count us in for a meeting to exchange ideas.
    Barb and Dick

    • Thanks! Social Media was our lifeline, but also I must give a huge shout-out to our local blog, the West Seattle Blog. They broke the story (the only news organization to do so), followed up on it, and helped everyone know what was going on. We had such a short time period in which to act, that up-to-the-minute factual reporting was essential to us. Plus, they stay neutral and report the facts in a professional way.

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