photograph by Greensboro Science Center

Those half-dozen seats strung together 40 feet above the forest floor aren’t part of some peculiar art installation. Nor are they part of a game of suspended musical chairs. They’re part of SKYWILD, Greensboro Science Center’s aerial adventure park. SKYWILD manager Dustin Murtaugh calls the chairs, the human-size spiderweb, the swinging pallets, the hanging rings, and 56 other challenges “elements,” but when you’re up there, they’re obstacles between you and that safety platform circling the tree trunk.

With names like Bird Nest, Chameleon Wall, and Gator in the Grass, many of the elements imitate mammal, bird, reptile, and insect movements and behaviors. You crawl, waddle, leap, grip, grab, lunge, weave, and, most often, delicately balance your feet and body to cross, say, a series of beams the circumference of telephone poles that sway with every tentative step. Leap between  plastic “lily pads” like a frog. Hang upside down like a sloth. Grab on to the dangling rope “tentacles” of jellyfish as you walk a tightrope. Elsewhere on the course, someone is brachiating, a fancy word for the graceful branch-to-branch swinging of primates. Or, in this case, Tarzans, who range from 8 years old to senior citizen. Military personnel, fire and police departments, and school groups have all taken a turn in the treetops filled with discs, planks, knots, and zip lines.

First, you’ll need your legs for the Roller Coaster Logs. Then, you’ll need your arms to propel yourself in a sky-high kayak. photograph by NEWS & RECORD STAFF, ©NEWS & RECORD, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Seven courses are available at SKYWILD, including three levels of difficulty: two beginner, three intermediate, and two advanced. At “Ground School,” you’ll learn the ropes and get helmeted and safety-harnessed six ways to Sunday. Participants progress along the course on an overhead trolley that can’t be released until the end of the course, so even if you fall off, you won’t fall down. You might feel like a dangling idiot, but just accept it as an insect experience: You’re like a June bug tied to a thread. Instructors wander below, calling out tips and encouragement.

Give a thumbs-up to the zoo visitors strolling beneath you, smug in the knowledge that you’re getting a view of the lemurs and anteaters that’s unavailable to earthbound mortals — even if you have become an exhibit yourself. Then turn back to the Mountain Lion challenge, featuring buoys way out of their natural watery element, strung like slippery beads on a rope. In comparison, the Predator Bridge is a breeze — even if you do have to watch a gravity-defying 10-year-old call out, “Look, Mom, no hands!” as you struggle along.

Still, your only competition at SKYWILD is yourself. Among the treetops, exhilaration is part of the deal. So is fear, fun, daring, nerve, and, best of all, I did it! glee.

Greensboro Science Center
4301 Lawndale Drive
Greensboro, NC 27455
(336) 288-3769

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Susan Stafford Kelly was raised in Rutherfordton. She attended UNC-Chapel Hill and earned a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College. She is the author of Carolina Classics, a collection of essays that have appeared in Our State, and five novels: How Close We Come, Even Now, The Last of Something, Now You Know, and By Accident. Susan has three grown children and lives in Greensboro with her husband, Sterling.