WildPlay parks get your spirit for adventure off the ground


The suspension of disbelief measures up to 65 feet above the forest floor at B.C.'s WildPlay Element Parks.

July's Team Power Smart contest is serving up a chance to win 1 of 3 family passes to the Monkido adventure at a family park that is equal parts Swiss Family Robinson and off-the-ground fun. Co-founder and CEO Tom Benson says the unique mix is the perfect recipe for personal transformation — whether you're seven or sedentary.

"Ultimately, we want to give children and adults a sense of having stepped outside of their comfort zone," says Benson. "My business partner and I were mountain guides for many years. We sort of had a life of helping people step outside what they were doing into something they didn't think they could do. This is just a small version of that.

"At the end of either WildPlay's Classic or Children Monkido adventure, they can do something different that they didn't think they could before they started."

Started in Nanaimo in 2006, WildPlay Element Parks has since added parks in Kelowna, Whistler, Victoria and Maple Ridge, and they also have one in the Yukon.

What can you do at WildPlay?

WildPlay's staple is their Monkido course, which provides a series of suspended obstacle games that increase in challenge, height, and fun across four sections of ladders, cargo nets, rope swings, tightropes, swinging logs, wobbly bridges, and other surprises. WildPlay also features additional adventure offerings at various locations. The parks have become a hit for school trips, guides and scouts, birthdays, family outings, and corporate team-building.

"The design focus of the course is making it so it's doable. It's not designed to be something so hard you can't do," says Benson. "We make it natural. It slowly gets harder and higher as you go along. We slowly add surprises. It's like hooking a fish. You keep reeling them along and the next thing you know they're 65 feet in the air doing some hard moves they never thought possible."

WildPlay allows Mother Nature to give young game boys and glam girls a jolt. Gone are the days when kids could jet on their bike in the morning and disappear for a day's adventure until dinner.

One girl's experience

For a trial, Emily, almost 10, was recruited. Emily is a free-spirited girl who used to routinely leap off slides, but is now slowly turning to brand-name fashion and girl-likes-boy TV.

While I wouldn't say she's inactive, I'm concerned when I read that a 2012 Active Kids' Canada Report Card [PDF] tells us 63% of Canadian kids' free time after school and on weekends is spent being sedentary.

Wildplay's Monkido children's course would provide a test to see how far down Emily's inner "rock-and-roll girl" now lived in the maturing Emily.

It took five minutes.

After studiously going through the demonstration of "clip and grip" and zipline hook-up with flying colours, Emily waited for approval with the same patience shown when desperately needing a bathroom break. Before even hearing the supervisor mouth "K" in "okay," Emily bolted to the modest rock-climb start of the children's course.

Halfway through her first course-tour of ziplining and aerial obstacles requiring both strength and agility, WildPlay supervisors shook foot-folly bridges and urged Emily to go backwards, no-hands and faster. Midway through her second and last course lap, she caught up to the other children completing their first.

Emily's first words on reaching the end: "I want to do the big one!"

Thank you WildPlay, for reaffirming the "rock and roll girl" still lives large in Emily. Now she's measuring her reach at home, hoping to hit the magical 5'11" mark

At the same time, a family with teenage son and daughter ventured to the most difficult section of the course. A daughter swung from the tree and caught the rope netting, climbing it to get to the next stage. The daughter cajoled her brother not to take the alternative easier tight-rope route available. The brother slowly relented and swung out. But dad did not. After that, none of the chirping in the WildPlay forest came from the birds.

WildPlay offers a unique experience — a real feeling of empowerment — that a buckle-in-and-go amusement ride can ever match.

"One of the things I really like about the children's course is you watch them and they're up there and you're not. They get this cool attitude that they have the freedom to do their own thing," says Benson. "They're responsible for their own risk management, which is an important part of growing up but something that's been largely lacking today. Just switching the two clips and moving them from one thing to the next is empowering. It changes the experience."

Benson's favourite WildPlay story is having to persuade a very nervous and scared woman to even venture one single step on the beginner's portion of Monkido's Classic course in Nanaimo. An hour later, the exhilarated woman boasted she made it though to the second most difficult section of the course.

"Then I saw that she had a number written on the back of her hand. And in the Nanaimo WildPlay park, that means you've been weighed to go bungee jumping. So, she's gone from 'I don't think I can go nine feet off the ground' to 'I'm going to jump off of a 155-foot bridge.' To me, that was perfect. That's our story in a compressed form."