- Zipline attraction Experience Outdoors faces complaints from neighbors
- Some residents blame Adirondack Park Agency for lax approach to development
By Tim Rowland
When walking down the aisle isn’t dramatic enough, a groom can zip off a 20-foot cliff to meet his betrothed at Experience Outdoors, a heavily wooded recreational center east of Lake Placid that offers zip lines, ropes courses and team building activities — and weddings.
From even higher up the Scott’s Cobble, zipliners wend their way down to the base, on a one- to two-hour adventure that, according to a guest register, has attracted people from Jay, New York, to Sydney, Australia.
But when Experience Outdoors asked permission to expand its hours and hold live music concerts running until 10 p.m., an already uneasy relationship with the neighbors bubbled over the surface.
The tension became clear at a July 7 meeting of the North Elba Joint Review Board, when frustrated residents complained of existing noise and worried that the attraction would continue to grow in terms of size and sound.
After the board balked at a request for three concerts a month, Experience Outdoors reduced its proposal to one concert a month, but that plan was tabled as well during the July 21 meeting.
The subtext of the tensions lies on Cascade Road, a scenic stretch of Adirondack highway bracketed by the Lake Placid horse show grounds and the approach to Cascade Lakes, and whether the flavor of that area going forward will tilt recreational or residential.
In addition to the existing neighbors of Experience Outdoors, an upscale subdivision is in the process of being completed nearby, inhabited by people looking for less commotion than what’s to be found in population centers and along the lakes.
Yet Experience Outdoors’ owners point out that the heavily trafficked area is largely recreational already, with golfing, cross-country skiing, the Van Hoevenberg sports complex, and places to stay and eat.
Frustration with the APA
And the issue transcends this particular stretch of real estate, according to residents, who say the Adirondack Park Agency deserves a share of the blame for permitting Experience Outdoors in the first place. “The APA has done a real 360,” said David Hunter, a neighbor of the center. “Instead of being anti-development, they have become pro-expansion all throughout the park.”
The theme park’s application for a limited number of concerts was approved by the APA this year, and agency spokesman Keith McKeever said there were no current violations at the facility. The APA had received complaints about Experience Outdoors in the past and cited the park in 2019 for tree cutting that exceeded what was permitted, and for operating past the 6 p.m. closing time in 2018, according to a 2019 settlement agreement.
McKeever said that Experience Outdoors qualifies as a tourist attraction, and as such requires a permit from the agency. Land-use plans “allow for mixed use development as long as projects are determined compatible with the character of the APA land use area where proposed, and do not have undue adverse impacts on the unique resources of the Adirondack Park,” McKeever said in an email.
The APA “also considers compatibility with the character of the area where a project is proposed, and must evaluate the potential for adverse impacts to the 38 development considerations to determine whether a project is approvable,” he said.
At the July 7 meeting of the Joint Review Board, neighbors said they could hear shouts from the guests, as well as the “wolf howls” of guides seeking to excite their groups. They also said they could hear the sound of the side-by-sides ferrying customers to the top of the zip-line course, and expressed concerns about tree cutting and setback infringements.
“Since the business has been opened, myself and other neighbors have already had our peace and tranquility disrupted when zipline customers are yelling and screaming while descending throughout the adventure park property,” said Cascade Road resident George McBride in a letter to the review board.
His view was echoed by a number of other neighbors, who spoke or submitted correspondence.
Experience Outdoors owner reacts
Experience Outdoors co-owner Marc Doering said he was blindsided by the criticism, and outside of one confrontation with an adjoining property while the land was being surveyed, there had never been an indication of a problem. “We can’t read minds, and no one ever came to us” with a complaint, he said.
In response, Doering said the guides have been asked to refrain from encouraging guests to yell, although he said that sometimes a shriek is a natural response to the adventure.
Doering also said some concerns and allegations were misleading or false. Regarding a claim that the park had “clearcut” ATV trails, he said it had only brushed out existing logging roads and installed water bars to prevent erosion.
He took strong exception to inferences that wedding receptions and other events would open the zipline to guests under the influence of alcohol, which is prohibited on the course.
He also said the courses were designed by professionals to have minimal environmental impact. “We’re not like a bunch of yahoos throwing things up in the trees and hoping they hold,” Doering said. “We’re not trying to kill the trees, because that’s our business.”
Doering said his guides also take the opportunity to talk to guests about matters of ecology and sustainability in the Adirondack Park.
Along with APA approval, the Joint Review Board has jurisdiction over the matter, which is complicated by the fact that Experience Outdoors co-owner Bill Walton and a close associate sit on the panel. Both have recused themselves from the proceedings. But Miriam Hadden, who said her family moved to the more rural area specifically to get away from the din of the village, said “I cannot help but question whether the remaining members of the review board can be impartial when reviewing this application …”
The board, however, has remained disinclined to go along with the application as it was originally written. “It seems fair to say that to some extent we have not sufficiently mitigated those negative things that come out of a commercial operation,” said board member John Rosenthal at the July 7 meeting. “If we didn’t properly mitigate it the first time, I wouldn’t be in favor of increasing the use.”