Photo:This is a view under the Memorial Bridge where one of three zip lines would come through. (Times photo by Bruce Farrin)
Photo:Imagine taking a zip line in the spring time through the mist of the Pennacook Falls. (Times photo by Bruce Farrin)
Photo:Jim Sysco, an engineer from Newry, made his own 5,000-foot zip line. He showed people some of the equipment used on his zip line, including a state-of-the-art traveling trolley, good for 16,000 pounds and up to 150 miles per hour. (Times photo by Bruce Farrin)
RUMFORD — Imagine taking a cable ride through the mist of the Pennacook Falls, taking another trip over the water and under the Memorial Bridge and a third one over the traffic on Congress Street.

The means is called zip lines, which Envision Rumford! introduced last Wednesday as their latest venture in an effort to energize Rumford’s business climate.

A zip line is a means of moving people or equipment over rough or pristine terrain using a cable and special zip line trolley system. The rider fastens into a harness or seat and launches out over the expanse. It is a thrilling ride, moving quickly and covering rugged terrain. Zip line rides slow to a landing speed as the line levels out naturally at the other end.

Zip lines are very popular in various parts of the country. Those who watched the recent Super Bowl may have seen the zip line going down the streets of Indianapolis. Zip lines are in operation at Sunday River and Sugarloaf.

Tom Carey, member of Envision Rumford! led the presentation, made before some 35 people in Rumford Falls Auditorium, including Town Manager Carlo Puiia, Andrea Quaid from the office of U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, Diane Jackson from the office of U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, Shannon Ames of Brookfield Power, and five class officers from Mountain Valley High School.

At the start of the 90-minute session, a half-dozen different You Tube videos were shown about different types of zip lines, including one in South Africa proclaimed as the world’s fastest — 100 miles per hour over 1.2 miles of cable.

Carey said this project began this idea maybe four or months ago. He said right now, they’re looking at three zip lines, which may change from their proposed placements due to the transmission lines.

He said also onboard with the project is Jim Sysco, an engineer from Newry, who then talked about zip lines.

“For some reason, a couple years ago, I decided I wanted to build a big zip line,” said Sysco.

He had one that was 250 feet long, but this year, built one that’s behind his house that’s the third largest in the world. It drops about 500 feet and is about 5,000 feet long.

Carey actually went down that zip line a couple months ago, in the fastest time to date of one minute, 38 seconds. He did so after signing a waiver form he also developed.

In creating the zip lines, Sysco said he found that the grade of the cables are very important. “If it’s too flat, you won’t make it to the end. If it’s too steep, you’ll come to the end too fast.”

Since Carey contacted him, Sysco said he’s been looking a lot at this area and learned zip lines would work well here. “You need a 10 percent grade, or at least an eight percent, to make sure people get to the bottom without stalling half way. You wouldn’t want to be in the mist over the falls and get stuck.”

Sysco said the three zip lines, laid out on a large-screen display, would give a fantastic ride, “especially the one down Congress Street…It’s got to have a grade all the way to the end and yet, we’ve got to clear all the traffic; probably at least 20 feet above the truck traffic coming down Congress Street.”

The line down Congress Street would be about 3,400 feet.

“Imagine taking off and going right through the mist of the falls in the spring. It would be an unbelievable experience. Might need goggles,” said Sysco.

That line, ending in the area of the park and Morse Bridge, would be about 2,000-feet long, as would a third zip line, which would run right under the Memorial Bridge. “What a spectacular ride. That line could run very close to the water. But it would have to be above the 100-year flood (line),” he said.

On the Congress Street zip line, Sysco said they might be able to put parallel lines. “Kinda fun. You could watch your friend going down beside ya.”

Carey said the ending point would be by Rite-Aid. That last 300 feet before the landing would likely have to shut down when the zip lines were being used.

Sysco added, “Maybe not. It depends upon how high we can get the upper terminal. The higher we can get the starting point, the higher we can get the finish to be.”

Following the meeting, after a discussion with Rumford Economic Director Jim Rinaldo, Carey said a better finishing point with the Congress Street zip line would be to have it continue an additional 1,000 feet across the river close to the NewPage parking lot, only 100 feet away from viewers on the walking bridge.

On his zip line, Sysco said he’s using five-eighths cable. “I would suggest that we use the same. It’s 60,000 pound tension. Typically, we have a 10-to-1 safety factor on the cable. In other words, for a human, you have a cable that’s 10 times stronger than it has to be.”

He showed some of the equipment used, including a state-of-the-art traveling trolley, good for 16,000 pounds and up to 150 miles per hour; and a typical climbing harness, which is used to snap a person into when using his zip line.

Carey asked if they got everything approved, how long would it take to develop the zip lines?

Sysco replied, “Each one would take probably two or three weeks.”

Sysco suggested that perhaps all three of these zip lines could have parallel cables, or set up to add a parallel cable in the future. He said the anchorage is the important part, which is what holds the tension in the cable. “It’s just about as simple to build an anchorage that holds two cables as it is to hold one cable.”

How much would it cost?

Sysco said he would only be guessing, but suggested maybe $100,000 per zip line. He followed that up by saying that they should get other opinions as far as costs.

Preliminary plans include bids from private vendors to finance the project, including construction and operation.

Sysco noted that there is no reason that the zip lines can’t be built locally, but then have the operations handled by a professional group.

Carey then had Brad Morse, who owns one of the largest zip line companies in the world, speak to the group via a cell phone through a microphone.

Morse said the most important aspect is location. He asked that the group do their homework and have an environmental study conducted.

He guessed that the zip line project could produce 35 to 40 seasonal jobs, with about 15 to 17 of those existing if it were to operation year round.

Jennifer Kreckel asked about insurance.

Morse responded that zip lines are regarded as safer than something like football because of the precautions taken. In 27 years of doing this, he said he’s never been sued and no one has broken a bone.

“Insurance is not a problem. The cost is based on how many people use it,” said Morse, adding the cost of insurance on the low end would be $10,000 to $14,000.

Carey noted it was said that 10,000 visitors per year are needed to have a successful zip line.

After it was noted that people of all ages use zip lines, Lynda Hebert, owner of the Hebert Realty Group, noted that her father, at age 80, went over a zip line last year in New Hampshire.

Someone asked about the cost to use a zip line. Prices suggested included $20 to $50 on the low end, and $80 to $100 on the high side.

One MVHS student suggested that a discount be offered for a zip line user if he/she also purchased a ticket to ski at Black Mountain.

Rinaldo said an average of 10,000 cars per day pass through Falls Hill. Over the last year, 6,000 visitors signed the guest book at the Rumford Information Center, with another 15 to 20 percent who stopped there but don’t sign in.

Police Chief Stacy Carter and Fire Chief Bob Chase both voiced a concern for public safety, but also applauded the efforts to be creative to try to bring economic development to Rumford.

Carter was concerned about motorists being distracted where zip lines would be near Route 2. Chase asked who would oversee the project and was told it would be through the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

Puiia said he enjoys the perspective about this project from people outside this area because the project is not just for locals to use. “We’re trying to attract people coming in (to Rumford).”

Quaid said, “I think this is a marvelous idea.”

Ames said she was present to gather information for Brookfield Power. She noted that their company has never dealt with a zip line project.

Carey said a lot of preliminary work needs to be done and they are only in the beginning stages.

He said he has contacted the Dept. of Environmental Protection, Inland Fishering and Wildlife, Central Maine Power and politicians. He said he also needs to contact the Maine Dept. of Transportation and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (jurisdiction on dams).

Carey said they met a representative with Central Maine Power last week and did a tour of the proposed zip line area, and will be getting back to him.

One of the zip lines is right near the power transmission lines. He said he’s waiting to hear from CMP what the clearance requirements are.

Carey said the whole goal is to help energize the island and the business community.

He noted one of the zip lines is located right near the snowmobile/ATV park-and-ride on Falls Hill, which is also in close proximity to the proposed mountain bike park behind River Valley Crossing. Also close by is the Rumford boat launch where people put in to use canoes and kayaks, as well as fishing.

“It’s a long wait if we expect businesses to just drop in here on their own. I think we have to take advantage of what we have here — the river, the mountains, the beauty, the recreational opportunities that are possible and really, I think, be an incubator for other businesses that follow that kind of energy. People will want to buy products that have to do with recreation, bike parts, gear, clothing. I think it has some legs. It just has to get started.”

People with comments about the proposed zip line project by Envision Rumford! are encouraged to send them to tscareylaw@gwi.net.

Reprinted with permission from the Rumford Falls Times.