Reaching New Heights
Meet Common Ground’s high-flying Canopy Tours, the only tree-top experience of its kind in Northern Ohio. It’s a complement — as well as a warm-up or chaser — to the conscious-living, environmental education, adventure challenge and leadership programming this retreat center has been delivering to youth and adults during its 20-year residence in the community, says Rick Grahovac, president and chief executive officer of Common Ground.
“Like all nonprofits, we go to the same pots of money over and over again. As we approached our 20th anniversary last year, we were looking for ways to become more sustainable in the future,” he says. “The Canopy Tours seemed like a natural fit for our center and an extension of our mission.”
The Canopy Tours opened in June 2014 and attracted more than 3,000 people in its first half-year. Grahovac says the Oberlin center is hoping to bring in 5,000 people in 2015.
The tour takes from two and a half to three hours and winds eight to 10 participants at a time through the wooded Vermilion River Valley, reaching speeds of 40 miles an hour and heights of 80 feet above the forest floor.
“You traverse through the tree tops between platforms and trees by a combination of zip lines, sky bridges and an aerial staircase,” he says, adding that the last zip line is 850 feet long. “We do incorporate environmental education along the way with a message of conserving and protecting nature. It’s just amazing to see the environment from that perspective — to be up in the tree tops and see the land — it’s spectacular.”
Each participant goes through what’s called Ground School, which is 30 minutes of instruction prior to the tour during which guests get outfitted with gear (helmets and gloves) and learn how to navigate the lines. There are guides at the front and at the end of each tour group. The tour costs $87 a person, and group rates are available for schools and corporations.
The Canopy Tours are right in line with Common Ground’s commitment to active learning. The center was founded by Rose Bator, who believed that every community needed a place where people could step away from their normal everyday life and address the things that were important to them.
Common Ground has a unique offering of programs for youth, such as Earth Day summer camps, field trips and school-year programs to support positive development and educate and connect students to the natural environment. Adult programs and workplace retreats range from half-day to multiple days and focus on personal responsibility, awareness and becoming your best self.
“We don’t just talk at kids or adults. We do a lot of experiential activities such as adventure challenges, games and activities, ropes course,” Grahovac says. “You learn a lot when you are doing. You learn a lot when you are having fun, and you learn a lot when you’re removed from your normal day-to-day environment.”