(Background from Part 1: Scott Dietrich purchased a 426-acre Bear Creek Falls parcel and was looking for a way to make it self-supporting without subdividing it or damaging the environment. He thought a canopy tour would meet those requirements.)
Both landowner Scott Dietrich and canopy tour operator Ken Stamps of Navitat envisioned the Pocono Plateau as an ideal location for an environmentally-friendly canopy tour operation they were looking independently, and they found each other.
Part 1 described the natural beauty of the Bear Creek Falls parcel, with Bear Creek cascading down steep mountain slopes enhanced by lush forest and native wildlife. Both Dietrich and Stamps wanted to maintain these qualities as much as possible, and they felt that their proposal of a canopy park would meet those goals as well as open the area to natural educational experiences, seasonal jobs, tourism, and an increased tax base for the township.
Navitat has yet to name the Penn Forest project, although Stamps expects that it will be called either "Navitat - Poconos" or "Navitat - Jim Thorpe". Navitat currently operates two canopy parks: in Wrightwood, in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California, and at its home base of Asheville, North Carolina, in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Navitat is proposing a 3-1/2 hour canopy tour on a reserved section of 200 acres of Dietrich's Bear Creek Falls parcel.
"We work very hard to create a genuine environmental experience," Stamps explained. "Our guides will undergo 70 hours of technical training and 30 hours of interpretive training, so that the guides will have a huge amount of technical and interpretive knowledge.
"Our tours are a celebration of trees, the beauty and the majesty of trees, and their role in our world" he said. "You will see trees from a unique perspective and learn about trees and the forest as you progress throughout the tour."
Stamps noted that Navitat plans to work with schools and environmental centers.
"At our other locations, we have programs where schools can bring classes out to our facility. We work with children's organizations to provide a thrilling and an educational experience," he said.
During its April through November season, Navitat draws visitors from all 50 states, and up to 50 countries worldwide. Tours, which are limited to eight guests and led by two guides, are scheduled at no more than three per hour, so that on the busiest of Saturdays, no more than 250 reservations are accepted.
There has been concern about access to the site by way of Bear Creek Road. Navitat is investigating alternatives.
"There is an option to use an outside parking lot and check-in, and then take people over in a 14-person van to reduce traffic on Bear Creek Drive," Stamps said. "We have begun looking for an off-site lot because of the concerns of the residents."
Asked how this project benefits the community, Stamps said, "It takes a natural environment and essentially protects it. The canopy tour will leave the property virtually undeveloped, except for a road and maybe some small buildings.
"Our goal is that the day we leave the property, and we take our canopy tour facilities with us, you won't know that we were there. We turn an unused property into an economic resource both for the community and the owner. It protects the property. There are other uses of the property that are certainly more intensive that are allowed, and that would develop the site much more intensively and would create more traffic," he said.
"We are taking a natural piece of environment, and bringing people into it. That creates jobs," Stamps said.
He expects the project to provide six year-round jobs and up to 60 seasonal jobs. He estimates that the canopy tour would draw up to 20,000 people annually, a small number compared to the rafting and bicycling outfitters, but adding another dimension to draw visitors to Jim Thorpe's tourism-related infrastructure.
Asked how he feels about the project, Stamps said, "It's an ideal site an absolutely serene piece of Shangri-La."
The Navitat canopy tour would complement the existing Fall Foliage weekend in Jim Thorpe. Visitors would then not only be able to see the autumn colors of the trees from the land and the river, but also look down from the tree canopies, walk across swinging bridges, and zip on a steel line between trees across Bear Creek.
Checking on the Internet to access the quality of the Navitat operations, the following were noted:
Ÿ Yelp users in 71 reviews, and TripAdvisor in 30 reviews, each gave five stars to Navitat - Wrightwood.
Ÿ Yelp users in 230 reviews, and TripAdvisor in 232 reviews, each gave five stars to Navitat - Asheville.