Collier’s Weekly: A Sad Farewell to Go Ape Pittsburgh

The ropes course quietly announced that its North Park location won't reopen in 2023.


I never once finished a zipline on my feet. Always on my back.

At Go Ape Pittsburgh, the ropes course that has for 10 years weaved through the treetops of North Park, more agile — and, let’s be honest, lighter — patrons can descend to the forest floor with grace before kicking their feet and reuniting with the Earth at a run. I, however, always found myself uncontrollably twisting to face the tree from which I had just departed before being dragged to a sudden stop through the wood chips, like a poorly thrown frisbee plunging into wet sand.

These ignominious declines didn’t keep me from returning to Go Ape. Over its 10 years of operation, I visited on four occasions, each time feeling a little better about my performance. It was one of my favorite outdoor activities, so I’m sad to report that the 2022 season will be its last, at least at its current location.

An email from the company announced the closure, explaining that “this will be the last season for Go Ape at North Park. We have been unable to agree on a location that suits both Go Ape and Allegheny County. We will continue to search for a new location so that we can reopen in future years, but as of today we will not be operating past 2022.”

A representative confirmed to me that the company was hoping to find a new location, perhaps as soon as 2024, but that Nov. 13 would be the final day for scampering among the treetops of North Park.

[UPDATE: Jason Budden, Go Ape’s COO, reached out to Pittsburgh Magazine to add that the company and Allegheny County had reached an impasse over parking for the North Park location; Go Ape’s original, 10-year lease expires this year. He adds, “Allegheny County has been a good partner over our 10 years in North Park and we hope to continue conversations.” In the meantime, Budden says, “We love operating in Pittsburgh and hope to find a location that is closer to the city center and provides easier access for more guests.”]

To me, it was a place where I overcame anxieties. I’m somewhat afraid of heights; on a long-ago trip to a particularly picturesque cliffside spot in Ireland, all of my friends strode confidently up to the ledge to peer at the ocean below, while I belly-crawled like a cowardly snake, peaked over then scuttled backward. When I first signed up for Go Ape, I didn’t know if I’d have the stomach to climb a tree, let alone navigate from one to the next. But — with very, very careful attention paid to the safety rules — I not only made it to the canopy but loved the mental and physical challenge of getting from one landing to the next.

That first trip, to be honest, was at a relative nadir of my fitness, and there were challenges I couldn’t complete; climbing a cargo net is surprisingly exhausting. But when I returned to Go Ape, I had made up my mind to conquer the net (and I had dropped a few pounds). Sweating, panting, I kept hoisting myself from one knot to the next until I flung myself onto the wooden platform, exhausted.

That’s the kind of victory Go Ape could deliver — and it’s kind of rare. Outdoor and fitness activities are generally divided into things that almost anyone can manage — kayaking, a hearty hike — or those that require some amount of pre-existing fitness, such as visiting a wall-climbing gym. A well-designed ropes course such as Go Ape is challenging enough for the adventurous but manageable enough for the timid; to me, and I’m sure many others, making it through the long course gave a serious sense of accomplishment.

I’m sorry to see it go. We’re in a period of change when it comes to recreation; people are spending their time and money on different things than they were before the pandemic, and even surviving attractions are changing their business models to match new habits. I hope that Go Ape can find another location in the area; it’s an asset to the region. Even if a new location isn’t as picturesque as the tranquil sprawl of North Park, it’ll be worth it.

Even if I never figure out how to land on my feet.

Categories: Collier’s Weekly