In the 1958 number two hit song “26 Miles,” The Four Preps crooned about “Santa Catalina, the island of romance,” but the island’s newest attraction is less about sunny beaches and more about thrills and adventure.
Scheduled to open on April 15, a 3,671-foot-long zipline course will carry customers up to 300 feet above the ground over rocky cactus-filled canyons.
The island is counting on the zipline, officially named the Catalina Zipline Eco-Tour, to bolster its struggling tourism industry. Earlier this year, a four-hour bus tour of the island closed due to declining ticket sales. But Bradd Morse, the president of Canopy Tours Inc., is hoping that more people will be interested in seeing the flora and fauna of the island if they can do so while soaring through the air at speeds of up to 40 mph. The 90-minute zipline experience will cost $89. Not exactly a cheap ride, especially when you factor in the cost of taking the ferry to the island ($66.50 round trip from Long Beach, Calif.).
Morse has good reason to count on success. Ziplines have recently gained huge popularity around the world. Already in Southern California there are courses in Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains and at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. Morse already runs lines in New Hampshire and Jamaica. He has had to turn down proposals from investors for lines in Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Ohio because he is “booked solid.”
The last time I visited Santa Catalina, the main attraction was a herd of buffalo, originally introduced in 1924 for the filming of “The Vanishing American.” After the movie was completed, the 14 buffalo were allowed to stay, roaming free on the island. By 1969 there were about 400 buffalo on Santa Catalina.
It was a blistering hot autumn day when I went to Santa Catalina with a Santa Ana wind blowing out of the canyons. Temperatures in downtown L.A. were near 100 degrees. Even the island got up near 90, which is unusual there. Nevertheless, I rented a bike and pedaled out of the town of Avalon and up into the hills. I didn’t see any buffalo, but I did get a nice look at some rare undeveloped California coastal countryside.
After taking the ferry back from Santa Catalina to Long Beach, zipline riders can indulge in a bit of history by visiting the historic ocean liner, the Queen Mary, built in the 1930s.
The zipline might just be enough to tempt me to return to “the island of romance,” which is actually closer to 22.3 miles across the sea. Maybe while I am zipping along I can even spot a buffalo.