Green River Adventures to expandPublished 9:47am Monday, November 5, 2012
Block grant to add jobs, enhance connectivity
Sara and Tim Bell of Green River Adventures have high ambitions for the future of their Saluda business, with a plan to open a new outpost, The Gorge, offering zipline canopy tours in the Green Rive Gorge in May 2013.
“We believe it would be, if not the best, one of the best tours in the Southeast,” Tim said of the course, which will take zipliners over 125 acres of mature forest.
Canopy tours are specific types of zipline adventures that through harnesses and steel cables take advantage of gravity to propel individuals from platform to platform through the tops of thick forests. The idea of the tours, the Bells say, is to allow people to experience the wilderness from a unique vantage point.
“When you are on either of those two ridges the views are just phenomenal because you are looking out over Green River gamelands,” Sara said.
Green River Adventures’ outpost for The Gorge canopy tours would be located at the end of Honeybee Drive in Saluda, just off Holbert Cove Rd. The property is adjacent to 10,000 acres of gamelands.
Sara Bell said initial plans for the tour include 1,100 vertical feet from top to bottom with eight ziplines, including four that would be more than 1,000 feet in length. She said they also plan to include three sky bridges and two freefall repels. All of the platforms included will have 180-degree views, she added.
Polk County’s Economic Development Director Libbie Johnson said the business is a great fit for the type of industry the county wants to see.
“The outdoor industry is one of the fastest growing segments right now in the country, even in a recession,” Johnson said. “It’s the kind of business that we want. Its not a pollutant, it brings in young people, it uses our natural resources without abusing them – it’s a great fit.”
Sara Bell opened the kayaking business at a location off Interstate 26 in 2006, but the business really caught steam when the couple moved to their current location in downtown Saluda in 2011.
“When we moved downtown we saw a significant increase in our tourism-related business (inflatable kayaking and guided hikes) because more foot traffic passed by as people were walking among the shops and restaurants,” Sara said.
The Bells saw the potential for expanding their kayaking business, with the addition of canopy tours, two years ago but it took until now for all the pieces to come together; the land coming up for sale and rewording of a county ordinance allowed their plans to move forward.
Green River Adventures worked with the county’s planning department and county commissioners to amend the county’s zoning ordinances to allow for nature-oriented non-motorized outdoor recreation as a permitted use in multiple use zoning. The property falls under multiple use zoning which previously only allowed for recreational facilities such as bowling alleys and skating rinks.
“I’ve never seen our political community come together with such a solid front,” Sara said. “Every single member of the commission was involved in discussions about how to make this work as well as all the members of the planning board. All but one even came out to the site.”
Now all the Bells need to fulfill their business plan is a Community Development Block Grant through the Small Business and Entrepreneurial Assistance Grant Program (SBEA).
To be eligible for such grants, a municipality must request grant funds from the North Carolina Department of Commerce on behalf of a business. The City of Saluda agreed to do this in early October and requested a grant in the amount of $250,000 for the company.
Other restrictions on the funds require that the grant be awarded to an existing company in operation for two or more years with one to 100 employees. The business must also have a specific idea in mind that would create jobs. The Bells plan to add at least 10 full-time positions including tour guides, an outpost manager and trip leaders.
According to the Bells, the money would allow them to develop the canopy tour by funding the actual construction of the course. The couple has already purchased the two necessary properties.