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Texas Kaleidoscope Weekend trips throughout Texas, a country of its own.

Cypress Valley Canopy Tours

USA | Wednesday, 11 March 2009 | Views [1165]

Bluebonnets bloom along Paleface Ranch Road, and just past a bend on the right a green sign announces Cypress Valley Canopy Tours. Out in Spicewood, Texas, just over half and hour drive from the hustle and bustle of Austin, is a peaceful haven of wooden giants. Bald cypress trees dot the property, so called due their bare branches in the winter. Estimated to be from 200 to 400 years old, they grow up to a hundred feet tall. A closer look reveals steel cables and treetop platform perches winding down a creek ravine.

Zip line tours began as an adventure travel novelty, often used in rainforests. The zip is a pulley suspended on a cable which uses gravity to whiz a person strapped in a harness from one perch to the next.

Owner David Beilharz first came across the sport in 2004. In an unusual turn of events, his brother bought a sailboat off E-bay. With no sailing experience, he wasted no time in recruiting David, a retired naval officer, to navigate a trip. Setting sail in Florida, cruising through the Panama Canal, they finally made a stop in Costa Rica.

“Literally, someone saw a sign nailed to a tree about a zip line tour,” says Beilharz.

Upon his return to the US, David had an epiphany when he realized he could convert his new home out in the Texas Hill Country into a zip line station. David and wife Amy had worked in Austin until 1998, when they made a life altering decision to move out to Spicewood to be closer to nature and spend more time with their four children.

“We built everything here from scratch,” Beilharz says.

The entire family is very much involved in the business and worked to convert their 88 acre ranch. Wife Amy, a Harvard business graduate, helped launch the business and now sets up reservations with the help of her 13 year old daughter. Their 19 year old son trains guides, with their eldest daughter debuting as a guide this summer. Their youngest assists with the zip limo, a golf cart which picks up guests as they finish their tour.

David designed all the buildings on site, and built them with the aid of his son. The main building has large, picturesque circular windows, complete with a rooftop launching pad that kicks off the main tour, and on the ground floor a waterwheel spins as water flows from the lake into the creek. The 90 minute canopy tour follows the creek bed’s path in a series of six zips. Currently producing roughing 3,200 watts of solar polar, 1,400 watts of wind power, and 300 watts of hydroelectric power, Cypress Valley operates on an open circuit that sells their excess energy back to the power company they rely on for cloudy, still days.
Guests go to ground school to learn the rules and get strapped into special harnesses, gloves and helmets. The left hand is used to reach back and grab onto the wire to brake, always behind and never in front of the pulley. All hooking and clipping is done by experienced guides, so participants are always securely fastened to a wire, even across bridges and on perches between zips.

“People really get a chance to let go and reboot here,” says Beliharz. “My greatest satisfaction is to see someone happy like a monkey, swinging through the trees.”

Guides not only make safety paramount but teach guests about the flora and fauna. Often they are college students studying a related science, like guide Jason Mills, a recent UT biology grad. Cypress Valley is currently looking to fill more student staff positions for the summer.

Grey foxes, armadillos, raccoons, rock squirrels, white tailed deer, and Mexican free-tailed bats are just some of the animals frequently spotted. A mountain lion is believed to be nearby, as staff came across a deer carcass dragged up a tree. A special sunrise birding tour is available, as well as a challenge course, one of the highlights being a zip in a full body harness that allows one to soar down a line horizontally in the classic Superman stance. Another option is a stay at Lofthaven, a one room treehouse available for a night up in the trees.

American Bison also roam a back pen, while a rooster, chickens, and ducks all peck around the lake. A picnic area with tables and a hammock allows visitors to lunch and relax after the exhilarating experience soaring through the treetops.

“I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to be here,” says Beliharz.


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