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Originally published July 3, 2012 at 6:00 PM | Page modified July 4, 2012 at 11:25 AM

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Lincoln Park neighbors riled up over proposed zip-line attraction

Seattle's cash-strapped parks department is considering a plan to allow a privately run, for-profit zip-line attraction in Lincoln Park. Local residents are upset about possible environmental and other impacts.

Seatle Times staff reporter

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With the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department facing another round of belt tightening, officials may allow a private company to build and operate a zip-line attraction in Lincoln Park, a move that has riled neighbors.

The cash-strapped department could see up to $65,000 in new annual revenue from the plan, but many locals say the fiscal benefits do not justify the environmental impact of adding a for-profit attraction to the forested West Seattle park where bald eagles and dozens of other bird species nest.

"We are setting a precedent by starting to sell off our natural areas," said Denise Dahn, who has lived in the area for 25 years and frequents the park. "There is no way you can do something like this and have it not ruin a significant chunk of our park."

The parks department has sought more private partnerships in recent years to save costs and bring in new revenue, including allowing private companies to run boat rentals at Green Lake and indoor soccer at Magnuson Park.

Those for-profit ventures bring in more than $700,000 a year for city parks, said spokeswoman Karen O'Connor. And with the department facing major budget cuts, every cent counts.

After receiving numerous inquiries from companies looking to build zip-line attractions in city parks, the department selected the Maryland-based Go Ape to begin developing the project last August, said O'Connor.

The company operates three other treetop attractions in the country, all on public land with a portion of the revenue going to the local municipalities. There are also 28 Go Ape attractions in the U.K.

But its projects have run into opposition before.

Go Ape wanted to expand to two sites in Virginia but dropped those plans after public opposition, according to local news reports. A similar proposal by a different company to install a zip line in a King County park, Gold Creek in Woodinville, was abandoned in May after a community uproar.

Chris Swallow, the business-development director for Go Ape, said the company tries to find the appropriate fit for the attractions it builds. And with the public process starting, the Lincoln Park plan, including its size and location, could still change.

He added that the company is working with the city and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on a report detailing the environmental impact of the project.

The zip-line course would be constructed 30 to 50 feet in the air; the land below is expected to remain accessible.

"We hope residents keep an open mind in terms of the services and what we are offering," Swallow said.

But for many residents and park lovers who already have formed an opposition group, there is no middle ground. When the West Seattle Blog first reported on the issue last week, many were furious that they were learning about the plan nearly a year after it was first proposed.

Trileigh Tucker, an associate professor of environmental studies at Seattle University, lives a few blocks from the park and was disappointed with city officials for not reaching out to the community earlier.

She said the noise from patrons zipping between trees would undoubtedly have a negative effect on birds and local residents seeking peace and quiet in the verdant 135-acre park overlooking Puget Sound.

Opponents of the proposal also are upset with the city for even considering a for-profit attraction on public land.

The cost to use the course hasn't been set yet, according to Swallow, but it likely would be lower than at other Go Ape locations, which charge $55 for adults and $35 for children.

But for many residents commenting on the West Seattle Blog post and on the opposition's Facebook page, the spirit of a public park is in danger.

"You are privileging people at a huge cost to all of us who cherish a free, peaceful natural environment," Tucker said. "This comes at great cost to residents and animal residents, with very little public benefit."

O'Connor, the parks spokeswoman, said a community meeting on the proposal will be held in August before the Seattle parks board makes a recommendation, likely in September, on the matter to the parks superintendent. The City Council would have the final say, if the superintendent OKs the project.

The fiscal quandary Seattle parks officials find themselves in is not unique, said Richard Sepler, affiliate instructor at the Department of Urban Design and Planning at the University of Washington.

With the public unwilling to fund public goods like parks, cities and states across the nation increasingly are faced with a choice: Become more entrepreneurial or cut services and maybe even shut down.

"The question becomes, how do you keep the character and essence of the park when you become more entrepreneurial?" said Sepler.

Javier Panzar: 206-464-2253 or jpanzar@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @jpanzar

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