HENDERSON — A group of adventurers hooked themselves one by one to a cord above a suspension bridge and walked carefully across to the tower.
Standing 50 feet in the air, the tower is ominous to the average heights-fearer. But to this group, the treehouse-like structure is the gateway to the most heart-pounding part of the Kerfoot Canopy Tours experience — the Red Tail zip line.
The group climb the windy staircase to the top, and they take in the view. Dense woods that fold into a deep ravine. Blue sky. And soon, each one will be flying right into it — up to 170 feet above ground and 40 mph, nowhere to go but down.
“Screaming is encouraged,” said sky guide Colin Begley about the two lengthy zip lines connected to the tower.
“Smells like vacation up here,” one of the braver participants says.
Kerfoot Canopy Tours — which opened June 14 north of Henderson on the Scenic Byway — is owned by Lee and Eva Kerfoot. Lee grew up on the Gunflint Trail and learned to appreciate the great outdoors from his grandmother, Justine Kerfoot, who was a Northwoods pioneer.
“He grew up with that in his blood,” Eva said.
Having lived in Victoria for several years, the Kerfoots went looking for the perfect acreage of land last year to open an outdoor adventure business with zip lines connecting from tree to tree. Lee's family owns Towering Pines Canopy Tour on the Gunflint Trail, and they thought southern Minnesota along the river would be the perfect setting for something similar.
“It's just an awesome way to get out and enjoy the woods,” Eva said.
The couple hiked around various areas looking for the right setting. “It needs to be naturally exciting,” Eva said, with lots of mature trees and ravines to make for the best view and overall experience.
The couple found exactly what they were looking for on 72 acres along the Scenic Byway between Henderson and Belle Plaine. Begley agrees. He worked as a sky guide last summer at Towering Pines and said the setting at Kerfoot is just as beautiful.
Begley said, from start to finish, the tour is a little less than three hours. An ATV takes people to the start of the course at the “ground school,” where people get to try out a low-hanging zip line and get used to the hand brake.
From there, they climb a spiral staircase to the first high platform and begin the tour through the treetops via numerous zip lines that zag around the area to various platforms. There's also some light hiking in the woods, including the hike across the 170-foot sky bridge to the tower.
The final zip line extends 1,200 feet across the ravine, and the course overall has about 4,000 feet of zip lines.
Eva said participants are always just one zip line away from solid ground in case of illness or good, old-fashioned vertigo. Although Begley said there hasn't been a zip-liner yet to not finish.
Eva said they've had families, groups of friends and even couples on dates come out so far. Tours run seven days a week, and they've had few slots go unbooked.
“We call it a half-day adventure,” she said. “You're totally immersed in nature.”
The plan is for Kerfoot to run year-round. The fall foliage around Henderson will transform the property, Eva said, and add a whole new element to the tour. And Begley said during the winter, without the foliage, wildlife will be a lot more visible from above.
To see a video of Kerfoot Canopy Tours in action, visit The Free Press homepage at www.mankatofreepress.com.