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SALUDA — A million-dollar investment and 25 new jobs for the Saluda area await an imminent decision on a $250,000 federal grant proposal.
Tim and Sara Bell, owners of Green River Adventures, and the town of Saluda are seeking the grant as seed money for The Gorge, a proposed zip line adventure park along the nearby Green River gorge.
The million-dollar development by the Bells would include nine zip lines dropping more than 1,000 feet down the side of the gorge, from one tree platform to the next. It would be the steepest zip line park on the East Coast, according to the Bells. The Bells say they are investing the bulk of development costs, with the pending grant from the federal Housing and Urban Development supplementing their investment. The town of Saluda, which endorsed the grant in November, would use about $5,000 of the money to erect hidden wi-fi antennas along the cityʼs main street, providing wireless Internet service to the entire downtown.
"Weʼre on pins and needles waiting to hear about the grant decision," Sara Bell said. "Weʼre hoping the financial crisis in Washington, D.C. doesnʼt affect it." HUD requires community block grants like this one to be submitted by a local government agency on behalf of a business. The proposal then goes through a state government agency and on to the federal government.
Tim Bell said he and his wife purchased 1.4 acres at the top of the gorge where they are building a shop and launching platform, and another 120 acres down to the bottom of the gorge to accommodate the zip lines. "Weʼve been eyeing this project for three years and I wrote a business plan for it two years ago," he said. "Everything came together in 2012 when the HUD money became available through the state."
"We employ 15 people now through our Green River Adventures," Sara Bell said, most of them seasonal. "The gorge project would enable us to add up to 25 more employees. "We were told weʼd get a decision on the grant any day now," she added. Officials reviewing the grant application were unavailable during the holiday break.
Bell said the zip line park would provide incredible panoramic tree-top views of hundreds of acres of wilderness in the gorge. The first line at the top would travel 250 feet, with patrons suspended in rigging under a cable. The next line would be 950 feet long, with the entire nine-line trip traveling about a mile. The lines would hang as little as 10 feet and as much as 200 feet above the ground.
"One of our challenges will be to communicate how safe the zip lines will be," Sara Bell said. "Each line will have a mechanical breaking system that will automatically slow a person coming into the next platform. Itʼs not a total free-fall."
Tim Bell, 33, and Sara, 32, started Green River Adventures seven years ago. It provides guided inflatable kayak river tours, kayak training, and hiking tours. However, that business shuts down in the cold winter months. "The gorge zip line project will extend our season and appeal to a much larger demographic base," Sara Bell said.
They have already begun construction of a base building at the top of the gorge in anticipation of the grant approval, and hope to begin operating the zip line park the middle of next May.