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Published: Tuesday, September 6, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Camano zip-line tours offer thrills — and a chance to save historic farm

Zip-line tours offer thrills -- and a chance to save historic family farm

  • Mark Mulligan / The Herald
Tyler Steinman reaches for a rope that will help slow down his zip as he moves towards a platform on the canopy tour at Kr...

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald Tyler Steinman reaches for a rope that will help slow down his zip as he moves towards a platform on the canopy tour at Kristoferson Farm on Camano Island on Monday morning. Photo taken 08292011

  • Angel Fernandez spreads into a "flying squirrel" to help slow himself down.

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald

    Angel Fernandez spreads into a "flying squirrel" to help slow himself down.

  • A smiling Julia Kristoferson zips onto a platform manned by guide Jack Dawe of Canopy Tours Northwest, Aug. 29 on Camano Island.

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald

    A smiling Julia Kristoferson zips onto a platform manned by guide Jack Dawe of Canopy Tours Northwest, Aug. 29 on Camano Island.

  • Guide Jack Dawe unhooks two pulleys from the cables of a zip line. Each set of cables can hold 27,000 pounds.

    Mark Mulligan / The Herald

    Guide Jack Dawe unhooks two pulleys from the cables of a zip line. Each set of cables can hold 27,000 pounds.

CAMANO ISLAND -- "Wooo-hooo."
With one hand waving free, Angel Fernandez zip-lined nearly two stories off the ground through the cedar, hemlock and Douglas fir trees in the Kristoferson family forest.
Fernandez, 43, is the sommelier at the Camano Island Inn, and not necessarily an outdoors type of guy.
But there he was on Aug. 29, a big grin on his face, trying the splayed-flying-squirrel move to slow his momentum as he zipped across a creek to the next platform high in the tree canopy.
"It's very beautiful here," Fernandez said. "I will be telling our customers at the restaurant about this."
That's what the five Kristoferson siblings like to hear.
After a few years of planning, construction, government approval and specialized training, the Kristoferson family opened Canopy Tours Northwest in August. It is one of the few zip-line tours in the region.
The new venture is a fun one, but it's also a way for the family to save the historic Kristoferson farm on Camano and stick to their commitment to managing their forest for generations to come.

Swedish immigrants Alfred and Alberta Kristoferson moved to Washington in the late 1800s to start a dairy. By the early 1900s, Kristoferson Dairy established its pasteurization and bottling operations in south Seattle.
The family bought land for a dairy farm on Camano Island in 1912. From lumber milled on site, the Kristofersons built hay and dairy barns, which today are listed on the state's Heritage Barn Register, managed by the Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation.
Son August Kristoferson soon took the reins of the dairy business, which by mid-century included his own sons. The Camano dairy farm soon became a favorite place for August Jr. and later for his children.
"We all grew up in Seattle, but the farm was our second home," said August III "Kris" Kristoferson, 56. "We spent almost every summer here and we loved it."
The fourth generation of Kristofersons were granted ownership of the family's 134-acre farm and adjacent 100-acre forest after their father, August Jr., died. Among the five siblings -- Nancy O'Neal, Betsy Kristoferson, Kris Kristoferson, Melissa Elliott and Mona Campbell -- are an accountant, a lawyer, a mechanical engineer, a creative entrepreneur and a landscape architect. Some of their children -- the fifth generation on the farm -- are zip-line tour guides.
Hay is still raised on the farm, which is certified organic by the state Department of Agriculture. Last year the family harvested more than 2,600 bales of hay that were sold from the old hay barn.
When the Kristofersons bought the land in 1912, the old-growth trees already had been clear cut. Cedar stumps on the property still bear the marks of the sawyers who stood on planks hammered into notches high up on the tree trunks. With its 100-year-old trees, the current forest is managed for a small harvest every 10 years under a stewardship plan developed with the help of Washington State University Extension.
The Kristoferson siblings have had plenty of chances over the years to sell their property to developers, said Campbell, 48.
"Now we're looking forward to celebrating the farm's centennial," Campbell said. "And we plan to keep it going for the future generations of this family."
n n n
The Canopy Tours Northwest layout features forest trails, a swinging log bridge and six double-cable zip lines, the longest of which is 650 feet through a meadow planted with young trees.
While each set of cables can hold 27,000 pounds and each safety harness can handle 5,000 pounds, tour guides limit the weight of tourists to between 80 to 280 pounds. Everybody signs a waiver, and you have to be at least 8 years old with parental permission to participate.
The tour, offered year-round, lasts from two to three hours and costs $85 a person. For now, the company offers three tours a day for eight people each trip.
People are driven into the woods aboard a 1963 Swiss Army troop carrier, called a Unimog. They end the tour rappelling 54 feet down a tree that holds the tour's final zip-line platform.
The course was built to standards set by the Association for Challenge Course Technology, Campbell said. The association inspected the course and trained and certified the Canopy Tours Northwest guides on site, she said.
This fall, the Kristoferson family hopes to install educational signs about the flora and fauna of the woods at each zip-line platform.
n n n
On Aug. 29, guides Jake Dawe and Kristi Cuddy loaded their tour group into the Unimog and Kris Kristoferson drove them up one of the old logging roads on the property.
Dawe, 22, is a 2007 Everett High School grad and Eagle Scout studying environmental resource management at the University of Washington. Cuddy, 40, of Warm Beach, has worked in the fitness industry most of her life.
It's been exciting to be in on the start of the tour company, the guides agreed.
Pam Nelson and her adult sons climbed down from the truck and then up some stairs to the first zip-line platform on the tour.
Nelson, 60, is a high school buddy of O'Neal, the eldest Kristoferson and resident caretaker.
Nelson's sons, Tyler Steinman, 27, and Matt Steinman, 29, joked with their mother as she prepared to try the zip line for the first time. With helmet on and harness attached to the line, she was ready to go.
"You'll be fine, Mom," one of her sons said. "You've been a good mom."
Everybody laughed nervously.
Swinging off the platform in a cannon-ball dive position, each tourist took a turn learning how to maneuver the cable attachment so they didn't twirl out of control across the forest. They discovered that it helps to lean back, relax and not clench the attachment in a death grip.
At a speed of what feels like 50 mph, at a height of what seems like 100 feet up, it was, for some, a little rough at first.
By the third line, most people warmed up and were eager to keep going. However, the No. 3 line crosses Little K Creek, which people can't really see because it's so far below. Some of the tourists sighed heavily before stepping off the platform into the cool air for a fast ride across the creek.
The sixth and final zip line runs from tree to swaying tree just west of the Kristoferson barns and includes a view of Mount Baker.
It's a great way to finish, Nelson said.
"It's so cool," she said. "What a blast!"

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427;
Open house
An open house at the new Canopy Tours Northwest on Camano Island is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 4 p.m Sept. 10 at 332 N. East Camano Drive, across the road from the golf course. For more information, go to or call 360-387-5807.

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