Co-founder Alex Van Ness in the woods where the course is being built. (Photos by Michael Schwartz)
Tucked away off the cart path at Independence Golf Club, hidden among the trees, a small construction crew is busy erecting the region’s newest recreational venue.
Work began this week on Canopy Adventure Park, a high-flying ropes course that will send visitors up and across a 300-by-200-foot swath of Powhatan County on excess land owned by the neighboring public golf course.
Behind the ropes course is Alex Van Ness, a local entrepreneur who also owns used auto parts company AV Auto Parts. He and an unnamed friend and business partner had the idea for the venture last fall, when their wives took them to a ropes course in Rice, Virginia, near Farmville.
“We hadn’t been to one in a long time and we absolutely loved it,” Van Ness said. “On the way home, we jokingly said, ‘We should start one of these in Richmond. It would be awesome.’”
They ran with the idea and began looking for land, focusing on Powhatan.
“We wanted to be in proximity to Richmond but didn’t want it to be in a built-up area,” Van Ness said. “We wanted it to be out in nature.”
An employee in the county planning office recommended they meet Independence owner Giff Breed, who’s known for being creative in his pushing of the boundaries of typical golf club offerings at Independence.
Van Ness says the heavily wooded area of the golf course is ideal for a ropes course.
It turned out Independence owned excess acreage outside of the course’s main playing boundaries. While the heavily wooded and tree-lined area is unusable for golf, Van Ness said it was ideal for a ropes course.
“It’s unusable for (Breed) and usable for us,” Van Ness said.
The two sides met and Breed said he immediately jumped at the idea, seeing it as another non-golf offering to add to laser tag, art classes and other activities Independence sells in its effort to make the club a destination for more than just golfers.
“They have a lot of energy and excitement, and they immediately got what we’re trying to do here,” Breed said.
Van Ness and his partner then hired Vestals Gap Ventures, a contractor from Purcellville that specializes in building ropes courses, and that helped them visualize the setup in the woods at Independence.
Construction began this week and is expected to last about six weeks, weather permitting.
Construction is expected to last about six weeks.
The finished product will house four courses – two sets stacked atop one another – varying in difficulty.
The ropes will be strung upon existing trees and newly installed poles, allowing users to climb as high as 45 feet to work their way across the woods, eventually crossing over and above a quiet creek, before reaching the end and riding a 250-foot zip line back to the start. They’ll scale 38 elements along the way, such as bridges, ladders, floating platforms and tightropes.
Their deal with Independence includes use of a nearby office space for registration and staging.
Users will buy two-hour time slots for $45. The park will have enough gear initially to accommodate 20 people at a time and the course eventually will be big enough to accommodate 30 at a time.
In addition to individuals, Van Ness said they’ll aim to market to corporate team-building outings, parties and to take advantage of the groups that come through Independence for golf and other activities.
Van Ness said the goal is to open in September, with weekend-only hours to start. He and his partner will keep their day jobs to start and will hire a few employees leading up to the opening.
They also have excess land to work with, giving them plenty of room to expand the course over time. Van Ness said they have access to an 800-by-1,000-foot area.
“It’s a huge piece of land. We’re going to start by only using a small portion of it. We have plans in our minds to do several additions,” he said.
They declined to say how much they’re investing in the venture, but said they are financing it themselves.
Van Ness said they’re confident in the demand for recreation in the area, particularly given that there’s not a glut of ropes courses in the region. The Richmond Zoo has its Treetop Zoofari in Chesterfield and there’s GoApe in Williamsburg, in addition to the course Van Ness visited in Rice.
And Breed is making a bet on their success as well, by forgoing a traditional lease and instead setting up a revenue sharing agreement with the park.
“It’s a big risk, but we’re confident the demand is there,” Van Ness said.