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‘The Finest Ropes Course in the Mid-Atlantic’ Formally Opens at Upton Hill Regional Park

Dropping nearly 40 feet from a platform above, a climber cut the ribbon on the “finest ropes course in the Mid-Atlantic.”

Located at Upton Hill Regional Park on Wilson Blvd in Arlington, Climb UPton was formally opened this morning at a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by local officials as well as those from the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority which operates the course.

“We gather to celebrate this magnificent cutting edge recreational ropes course… and one of the finest examples of regional and local collaboration,” said Cate Magennis Wyatt, chair of NOVA Parks board. “This is the finest ropes course in the Mid-Atlantic. That’s what you have given back to the citizens.”

Officials are touting this ropes course as the biggest and best in the area. With 90 elements and reaching nearly 40 feet high, the course is intended for beginners and those more advanced alike. It features three zip lines, a 40-foot controlled freefall, tunnels, an Everest ladder, and an observation deck.

The course also has a “parks theme,” hence the suspended picnic table that climbers can ostensibly sit and eat lunch at.

The course actually has been open for climbers since July, but the admissions building wasn’t finished until now due to “supply chain issues,” NOVA Parks Executive Director Paul Gilbert told ARLnow.

The ropes course is the major addition of the $4 million, at times contentious, renovation of Upton Hill Regional Park that was first presented to the Arlington County Board in late 2017.

There’s also a new playground at the bottom of the hill, parking improvements (including ADA-accessible parking on Wilson Blvd), more walking trails, a large underground cistern to capture stormwater as well as soon-to-be opened bathrooms and a picnic shelter next to the playground. The renovations were paid for with revenue bonds from the Virginia Resources Authority.

These additions join slow and fast pitch batting cages, Ocean Dunes Waterpark (which is currently closed for the season), and a 18-hole mini-golf course already at Upton Hill Regional Park.

A big reason that some residents and conservationists initially disapproved of the project was the plan to cut down more than a hundred trees to make room for the ropes course and parking lot improvements. Not only were some of those trees saved, but a new native hickory and oak forest was planted in the park, officials said.

“We brought in the right trees, the right shrubs, the right grasses to create the ultimate succession of forest to kind of jumpstart [the growth process],” Gilbert told ARLnow. “We don’t have to wait a hundred years for it to get there. We can grow it from the ground up.”

Chris Tighe, president of the Boulevard Manor Civic Association during much of the project’s development, said in remarks that this was a “testament” of how government, non-profits, and the community can come together to build something that works for all.

It’s expected that the park’s renovations, particularly the ropes course, will garner visitors and attention from across the region, not just in Arlington.

“That’s the thing with regional parks… we’re less about creating amenities for the immediate neighborhood, although any park is a local park,” said Gilbert. “But we’re really interested in creating this unique regional resource that is going to stand out.”

During the ceremony, NOVA officials as well as Arlington County Board Chair Matt de Ferranti spoke about how the ropes course will help kids in the community learn to “put one foot in front of the other.”

“I just think it’s so wonderful that in our community we have this facility, after much discussion and debate, that is going to be part of what makes Arlington a great place to live and work and play from this time going forward,” de Ferranti said.

However, the entrance fees to the ropes course may provide pause for some in the community.

For adults, who are 16 years old or older, it costs nearly $50 for 90 minutes of climbing. For children 8 to 15 years old, the fee is nearly $40. For kids 5 to 7 years old, it’s $20 but they have to be accompanied by a paying adult.

When asked about the affordability of these price points, Gilbert said the ropes course has to generate revenue in order to pay back the money borrowed to build it.

“We made a major investment. We invested in the storm water and invested in a new, exciting facility,” he told ARLnow. “And we were having to pay for that for decades.”

He also said that the community received a number of “free assets” as part of this project, including the playground and yet-to-be-built picnic shelter.

“This is the economic engine that pays for all of the improvements,” Gilbert said as he pointed behind him to the ropes course. “To really re-birth the whole park.”

During the ribbon cutting ceremony, there was a brief presentation about the Black and Latin/Hispanic Birder & Naturalist series sponsored by NOVA parks and the NAACP. The next walk in this series is October 30.

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