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Treetop park gets the go-ahead

Branches and tree trunks could be at the heart of Albemarle’s next big business.

During their meeting Monday, the Albemarle City Council approved a lease agreement with Carolina Treetop Challenge, LLC that will allow the company to launch an aerial park at Rock Creek Park, just outside the city’s downtown.

Organized like an outdoor theme park, the $800,000 project will put a series of ropes courses, zip-lines and other outdoor activities in the park that visitors can pay to use. According to an impact study, it will attract up to 30,000 visitors a year once firmly established.

“It’s an exciting project that will help us build our name as an outdoor, active community,” Albemarle Economic Development Director Mark Donham said. “This is a beautiful area, we’ve got Morrow Mountain, the Uwharrie forest. This just builds on our strengths.”

According to the contract between the two entities, the city will lease 10 acres at the park’s southern end to Carolina Treetop. In return, Carolina Treetop agrees to pay a monthly rent of $2,100 to the city (once the park opens) plus 3.9 percent of its gross annual profits (after the first year).

Outside of those rental terms, the contract stipulates that Carolina Treetop is liable for all safety concerns on their portion of the property, and must carry enough insurance to cover all associated risks. Also, the park is required to close during inclement weather and is restricted from selling alcohol.

As for utility costs, Carolina Treetop must cover all such expenses associated with its operations, including the $20,000 bill for a grinder pump and sewer line extension needed for new restrooms (though the city will cover installation expenses).

“I just want to say that as a family… we’re excited,” said Ken White, who will be running Carolina Treetop with his father and wife. “We’ve ironed out the details and we’re ready to move forward.”

The company’s next step is to bring out an aerial park designer to the site, he noted. Sometime in the next couple of weeks, the group of aerial park specialists they are working with — Outplay Adventures and Treego Parks — will send someone to look over the area and plot out courses and zip-lines.

At the same time, they will also start fixing up the property’s infrastructure — namely two buildings, two sheds and a paved lot on the property that they plan to use for offices, storage and parking. They’ve set aside about $50,000-$80,000 for those kinds of facility upgrades.

Both facilities and ropes courses will hopefully be open within one-two years, owners noted.

“We’re dedicated to making this a win-win for everybody,” White said.