Now the eco-tourism attractions that annually draw millions to island nations like Costa Rica will be more readily accessible right here in the Florida Keys.

Crane Point Executive Director Audrey Moir eagerly announced plans this week for a zip-line installation at one of the Middle Keys main attractions.

“We can only bring so many people through the gate, so we had to come up with another attraction,” Moir elaborated on the idea.

Though roughly 20,000 visitors hike the hammock trails and visit the historical museum each year, Moir said when she took on the position two and half years ago, the board and staff “went on an austerity kick” to get the organization back in the black.

When she posed the idea of a canopy tour to her board, she admits they were initially taken aback with the idea.

“All they could imagine was big bulldozers coming in to tear down their trees,” she elaborated.

Board member and elementary educator Beth Pinkus said she shared the news with her fellow teachers at Stanley Switlik Elementary School, they were very excited, and everyone is talking about that a great educational field trip this will make for the students of Monroe County.

“After over a year of work and study by the administration and board of Crane Point, this incredible achievement will further enhance Marathon’s reputation as an outstanding eco-friendly family destination,” Pinkus added. “We are thrilled this if finally going to be a reality.”

The Crane Point Eco-Adventure Canopy Tour Program will focus on providing a unique, thrilling and educational outdoor adventure experience for visitors to Crane Point. The project includes the installation of a zip-line canopy tour and the development of program curriculum tailored to the diverse populations that Crane Point currently serves; the entire experience will last approximately two and a half to three hours.

“It will include hiking trails, and each platform will be like an informational kiosk with explanations of the flora, fauna and animals,” Moir continued. “The zip-line will seamlessly blend into existing elements of the hammock, yet showcase the forest, ocean, and surrounding environment of the property.”

All development is planned to affect the surrounding green space as little as possible. The intent is to utilize existing scarified areas almost exclusively resulting in minimal impact on the property. To this end, they have worked with designers to develop a zip-line course that incorporates multiple ecological zones and showcases the unique elements of the entire hammock. However, until comprehensive survey and design phases are completed, determinations for final exact locations and components are subject to change. They feel confident the overall topography and tree stock provide the requisite options to insure the viability of an attractive and diverse course.

Moir explained that the proposed course layout includes a short training zip installed between trees in a location near to the start of the chosen course. Additional zips would include smaller initial lines and larger open-air, over-water lines that would capture both the sensation of high-speed flight and breathtaking exposure alike.

“Crane Point is extremely excited about incorporating this new attraction into their 63 acres of natural habitat,” she continued. “With this new and exciting canopy tour installation and related programs, we will create in excess of 22 new jobs.”

The zip lines and canopy tour – expected to attract 13,000 people during its first year and more than double that number by its third year of operation – will provide another hugely popular and distinct reason for people to come to Marathon. The current staff and board are hoping for tremendous spin-off benefits for the tourism industry in Marathon. Visitors will be drawn to the zip lines, then discover the many other recreational, cultural, lodging, dining and shopping opportunities in Marathon.

Crane Point has sought the support of the city and other local development agencies and is working closely with them. Moir said City Manager Roger Hernstadt, Planning Director George Garrett, Community Services Director Susie Thomas, Financial Director Peter Rosasco and the entire city staff have been incredibly supportive throughout the planning process.

“We hope to be up and running by the beginning of 2012,” Moir concluded. “Construction is set to break ground in September using all local workers in conjunction with the Colorado-based company, Bonsai. It’s a huge task, but we’re all up to it.”

Crane Point Museum and Nature Center, located at 5550 Overseas Hwy., Mile Marker 50.5 bay side in Marathon, is open Monday through Saturday, 9 am to 5 pm and 12 noon to 5 pm on Sunday. (305) 743-3900 or (305) 743-9100.

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