Adventure Park for kids opens on Long Island

Vincent Ugenti, 35, of Deer Park, walks across Vincent Ugenti, 35, of Deer Park, walks across a suspended rope bridge at The Adventure Park at Long Island in Wheatley Heights, Saturday, June 21, 2014. Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

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"Mom, watch!" yells Sarah Pomerantz, 11, from high in the trees at the newly opened Adventure Park at Long Island in Wheatley Heights. She's about to grab two rings and zip down a wire from one tree platform to the next, as if on a flying trapeze.

Then she hesitates. "I'm scared!" she shouts.

"You can do it, girlfriend!" encourages mom Kathleen from the ground, ready to video her daughter with a smartphone. Sarah takes the leap, and whooshes to the next tree. Then, she's cheering on twin brother Brendan, next on the trail behind her.

All around the Pomerantz twins of Dix Hills, other climbers are navigating what looks like a Robinson Crusoe treehouse on steroids. Like ants in a busy colony, they are working their way from tree to tree, balancing on tightropes, crawling through hoops and an aerial tunnel, teetering on log suspension bridges, walking planks.

It's not just kids. Joe Ceraulo, 16, of Syosset, is climbing with his grandfather, Joe Ruchala, 69, of East Norwich. "She thinks I'm crazy," Grandpa Joe says of his wife, Suzie. "But it has nothing to do with this," he jokes.

'NEW KIND OF RECREATION'

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The Adventure Park introduces to Long Island an attraction more typically found during the summer at destinations like Lake George and ski resorts in the Northeast. Eight aerial trails, ranging from beginner to advanced, are marked in yellow, green, blue and black, like ski trails. Kids 7 and older can attempt yellow courses solo, but climbers must be at least 15 to try the hardest, double-black course dubbed Commando.

While people may have heard of zip lines from vacations in places such as Costa Rica, The Adventure Park at Long Island encompasses more. Zip lines are sprinkled through the courses as a periodic reward for hard work -- all climbers do is hook themselves on and glide to the next tree, says Anthony Wellman, communications director for Outdoor Ventures, the Fairfield, Connecticut-based company that operates the park. "It's a new kind of recreation," Wellman says.

Climbers are first fitted into harness and protective gloves, then attend a safety session instructing them how to use the carabiner clips that attach to cables strung in the trees to keep from falling. "The No. 1 concern is safety, safety, safety," says park manager Evan Cohen. Climbers should wear sneakers; women with long hair should tie it back, and everyone should bring insect repellent.

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Climbers then tackle what the park calls the elements that connect tree to tree. "One element might be balance, one element might be strength," says park administrator Lisa Lombardo of Northport. "Every element is a psychological one," she adds, meaning climbers have to figure out how to tackle each and overcome their fears, building self-confidence in the process.

SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT

Staff members in orange T-shirts are stationed throughout the area, ready to assist if climbers need advice or coaching. "If somebody gets stuck, we talk them through it," says Schar Sra, 17, of Dix Hills. The more advanced courses can be quite a workout; on a recent afternoon, staff members were constantly coaching people with instructions from the ground or by climbing into the trees to physically reach them -- even lowering some to the ground with a special apparatus when they slipped from an element or couldn't make it any farther.

"It seems really scary, but once you get it, you're like, 'Wow, that was fun,' " says Lauren Habacker, 15, of Rockville Centre.

"I'm so proud of you," Kathleen Pomerantz says to Brendan as he descends from the finish of the trail he was on. Pomerantz, 45, says she didn't climb herself because she is "a chicken." But after watching her kids, she says she's motivated to join them in the air. "Next time I come back," she says, "I'll give it a try."

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Adventure Park at Long Island

WHEN | WHERE 10 a.m.-8 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. weekends, 75 Colonial Springs Rd., Wheatley Heights

INFO 631-983-3844, longislandadventurepark.org

COST $49 ($44 ages 10-11, $39 ages 7-9) for three hours of climbing

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