The builders of a proposed adventure challenge operation in Penn Forest Township are hoping once area residents learn more about the business, their concerns will be alleviated.
Abby Burt, branding and marketing leader for Navitat Canopy Adventures, explains that Navitat, as a company, is committed to working with the natural environment and local community.
"Our Asheville, N.C. tour was recently voted 'Best Outdoor Adventure Company' by the local residents in a poll conducted by a local newspaper (Mountain Xpress) in Western North Carolina," says Burt.
That particular poll, she says, looked at other companies similar to what you would find in the Pocono region.
"We were up against other zip line companies, rafting, hiking, mountain biking, pretty much anything you find in mountainous terrain, and after only three years, we came out on top.
"I can tell you that whenever we come into an area like this, the local residents have their concerns; it's understandable. But we, as a company, are committed to the environment and the community."
Burt says the company is committed to its employees as well.
"We were recently certified as a living wage company," she adds.
A living wage is defined as "a wage sufficient to provide minimally satisfactory living conditions."
"Navitat Canopy Adventures is not a thrill ride," says Burt. In fact, she adds, it's not a ride at all.
"It is an elevated walkway through the forest on a guided tour."
Burt says canopy tours have been around for years and the model used by Navitat is reminiscent of the systems used in Costa Rica.
The tours created by Navitat are designed by John Walker, who is president of Bonsai Designs Inc. and a principle at Navitat.
"John is the premier designer and builder of tours in the U.S.," says Burt. "His designs are seamlessly worked into the trees and the natural landscape and environment."
With tours currently operating in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina and in the San Bernardino National Forest in Wrightwood, Calif., Burt says expanding to the Pocono Mountains region was an easy choice.
"This property has beautiful natural topography," says Burt. "It would give the people a sense of the rich biodiversity of the area."
Burt cites the large expansive area and proximity to large population centers as additional reasons for choosing the area.
She adds that Navitat is very much committed to the environment and the natural beauty of settings it chooses for its tours.
"We have a full-time master's level plant ecologist on staff. It is her responsibility to teach the staff about the local environment and she is charged with natural resources management. Our goal is to leave an area better then we found it" says Burt.
The seasonal tours, currently April through November at the other locations, would consist of a series of assents, zip lines, bridges and repels. All of the materials used are designed to blend into the natural surroundings.
"When John designs a tour he takes his time searching the area for the most significant views and naturally appealing sites," says Burt. "If he finds a particularly beautiful tree you better bet he will find a way to make sure everyone on the tour will get to appreciate its beauty as much as he. Then it's his job to train the guides so that they know what they are looking at and how to best help the guests get the most of their experience."
Safety is also a priority with Navitat Burt says, adding that all of the systems used in their zip line tours are redundant.
"We use dual, stainless steel, aircraft grade cables in our zip lines."
Dylan Burt, Navitat's chief operating officer sits on the board of the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT), which is currently writing the standards for zip line tours. The ACCT is made up of executives of many of the adventure sports companies. The industry is self-regulating. The ACCT has a list of certified inspection companies, which are available to conduct inspections in compliance with the standards set by ACCT. Navitat has yearly inspections performed by ACCT certified inspectors.
In addition, Burt says, each site is inspected daily by the staff. Staff not only inspects the cables, bridges and tree platforms, but they are also trained by the plant ecologist on pruning trees for the safety of the guests and the good of the trees.
According to Burt, the tours are designed to start out gradually and build to more intense, longer and faster segments. Each tour takes no more than eight guests and two guides. The tours are separated by 20 minutes. At absolute peak capacity, the company will see no more than 24 guests in a one-hour period or 200 to 220 people per day when weather and daylight conditions allow.
Navitat discourages drive up visitors to their sites.
"We are set up for small groups with advance reservations," says Burt.
The plan for the visitor center calls for 72 parking spaces. There will be approximately 45 employees, although not all working at the same time. The employees will utilize a large number of the parking spaces.
The tours run 3.5 hours and consist only of the aforementioned, assents, zip lines, bridges, and platforms and repels.
"We understand that there is information out there that we are planning ATV trails. This is not true," says Burt. "At our other sites we use two Kubota RTVs. The RTVs transport the guests from the welcome center to the tour site." She adds that the RTVs travel at only five miles per hour."
Burt also wants to clarify that the company never goes in and bulldozes trees along their corridor.
"We go through and cut a trail which is only wide enough for an ATV. This path is used for maintenance of the corridor as well as for emergencies and for extraditing guests who want to be taken off during the tour."
The tours in Asheville and Wrightwood cost $89 per person. There are weight and age restrictions as well. Guest must be between 90 and 250 pounds and must be at least 10 years of age. Burt says that the experience seems to be most attractive to the "baby boomers and the bucket-listers."
There has been a lot of opposition to the development proposed by Navitat. The main issue is that the only ingress and egress to the proposed site is through the private Bear View development. There is only one road, that being Bear Creek Drive, that services the property owned by Scott and Christina Dietrich, on which the challenge course is proposed.
The Dietrich property is over 400 acres in size and the western-most side of the parcel runs along the Lehigh Gorge. The property is located in Penn Forest Township and Jim Thorpe Borough. A review of the plans shows the land to be leased by Navitat is deep into the western section of the parcel. There is a 25-acre buffer between the proposed Navitat site and the nearest neighboring property.
The public may view the plans at the Penn Forest Township municipal building by contacting Cindy Henning at (570) 325-2768 to make an appointment.
Burt was asked if Navitat plans any improvements to Bear Creek Drive as part of its plan.
"Navitat is committed to doing our fair share in assisting the community in improving and/or maintaining Bear Creek Drive as needed. A recent traffic study determined that our business traffic, as we welcome just a limited number of guests each day, would account for approximately 10 percent of the total traffic on Bear Creek Drive. As this is a private road with easements, our plan does not include paving Bear Creek Drive."
Burt also said that once the planning and permits stage is complete, it would take approximately six to nine months to construct the tour.
The township had scheduled a planning commission meeting for last Monday to address Navitat's proposed project, but due to the size of the crowd, the meeting was rescheduled to Thursday, Nov. 1 at 6:30 p.m. at Penn Forest Fire Company No. 1 on Route 903.