SACO — Watch out for that tree!

A new tourist attraction in southern Maine is encouraging kids and adults to strap on harnesses, don safety helmets and channel their inner ape this summer.

On May 28, Monkey Trunks, a New Hampshire company that runs outdoor high-ropes parks, opened a site in Saco.

The towering jungle gym has 48 obstacles, including two 750-foot-long zip lines — most of them 30 to 60 feet in the air.

“It isn’t bungee jumping or skydiving, but it’s physical and really gets your adrenaline going and builds confidence,” said Hazel Ives, owner of Monkey Trunks. “You see 20-year-olds having a great time, and you see kids trying to talk mom and dad or even grandparents across the challenges.”

High-ropes courses are common at colleges, resorts and summer camps, but courses that are open to the public are still rare.

Maine’s first public high-ropes park, Monkey C Monkey Do, opened in Wiscasset last year. Later in the year, Sugarloaf and Sunday River began offering zip line tours.

Monkey Trunks is the first park of its kind in the Saco area, said Bud Harmon, president of the Old Orchard Beach Chamber of Commerce.

The course, which took two months to build, is on 13 acres off Cascade Road, where the Cascade Inn and Restaurant stood.

Tony and Mary Martin from California saw a pamphlet about Monkey Trunks at a visitor’s center this week. “We just lucked out, coming here,” Mary Martin said. “Having a 12-year-old son on vacation — it can’t all be lighthouses and tours of old homes.”

When members of the Monkey Trunks staff aren’t supervising and cheering on climbers, they are zipping through the course, or horsing around in a Bobo the Monkey suit.

“Families see Bobo from the road, and immediately we get more people turning in to see what’s going on here,” said team leader Evan Thomas of North Yarmouth. “There’s just something about a dancing monkey.”

A favorite obstacle for the staff — mostly college students on summer break — is the “leap of faith,” where climbers spring from a 50-foot-high platform to try to touch a an orange rubber ball the size of a basketball, suspended in mid-air.

“You’re wearing a harness, but it feels like a freefall. It’s more a mental challenge than anything,” said Thomas. “It’s about getting up the courage.”

Once he mastered hitting the ball with his hand, staff member Billy Davis, 22, of Rhode Island set to work trying to head-butt it. “We get to play on the course all day. It’s just a rush,” said Davis.

Ives, from Nottingham, England, and her husband, were skiing in New Hampshire in 2007 and looking for something to do on a day when the slopes were icy. The idea for Monkey Trunks came to them.

“In England, these courses are very popular — they’re everywhere,” she said.

Ives saw an opportunity to bring the high-flying adventure park phenomenon across the Atlantic. She and her husband put together a business plan, presented it to a bank and got an encouraging response.

Ives sold her house and started looking for land in New Hampshire. “It’s been a wonderful and worrying experience at the same time,” she said.

Ives now owns two other Monkey Trunks courses: one in Tamworth, N.H., that opened in 2008, and one in Laconia, N.H., at Weirs Beach, which opens today.

Ives dubbed the business Monkey Trunks after her daughter’s childhood nickname. For the first few years, she spent her winters working in England as a management consultant to keep Monkey Trunks going. Now, with three sites open, she has been able to move to the United States full-time and is looking to expand the business down the East Coast.

Ives picked Saco because there were no other zip line attractions in the area, and because of the region’s reputation as a tourist destination.

But attracting tourists isn’t the only challenge of running Monkey Trunks. Safety is a constant concern.

“The state of Maine is quite tough on businesses like us, which is really good,” said Ives. “It keeps out the people that think they just need a couple of poles and some cables” to run a business.

Ives puts her employees through a week of training. She said she looks to hire people with great attitudes who pay attention to detail.

“Would I want that person to rescue my daughter from the course? If the answer’s yes, it’s a good sign,” said Ives.

Despite the economic downturn, Ives said, Monkey Trunks has continued to grow in popularity every year. “We’re very optimistic,” she said.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.