Canton zip-line park announces plan to relocate

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Embroiled in a zoning dispute with their neighbors and faced with the prospect of shutting down operations after a successful first year and a half of business, the owners of a Canton-based outdoor adventure park have come up with a new plan that they believe could be a win for all sides.

A young climber traverses a course at TreeTop Adventures. (Michelle Stark photo)

A young climber traverses a course at TreeTop Adventures. (Michelle Stark photo)

Working in conjunction with the Irish Cultural Centre (ICC), Topher and Molly Kerr, the husband-and-wife ownership team behind the popular TreeTop Adventures zip-line park, have decided to drop their ongoing appeal with the Canton zoning board and instead will look to build a brand-new set of courses on a different lot within the ICC campus. In contrast to the existing site, which has since been identified as Lot 11 at 0 Ward Well Road and determined by the building commissioner to be situated in a residential district, the new park would be located on the main ICC parcel — further away from the homeowners on Ward Well and on land that is unquestionably zoned as limited industrial.

Pending approval by the full ICC board next Tuesday, the Kerrs will then move to immediately file a new special permit application with the ZBA, and if all goes as hoped, they will be back up and running on the new site in time for the spring opening.

“We’re actively exploring the possibility of relocating to the other side of the Irish Cultural Centre campus,” said a cautiously optimistic Topher Kerr on Friday. “Our course designer has some great ideas about how to make a state-of-the-art new course, including zip-lines that are twice as long and incorporating the latest innovations in challenge course elements.”

The ICC, meanwhile, already appears to be fully on board with the new plan, with John Foley, ICC counsel, expecting unanimous approval by the organization’s leadership next week. “I’m just delighted that we were able to work with the Kerrs to come up with a solution that will solve everything for all concerned,” said Foley.

Seamus Mulligan, president of the ICC board of directors, said he is hopeful that the town will approve the new proposal so that TreeTop can stay in Canton.

“When we realized we had a serious problem with the zoning of the first course, the Irish Cultural Centre began looking for a solution,” he said. “We think relocating Treetop to the other side of our campus is the ideal solution. It works for all concerned, provided we get town approval.”

Regarding the siting of the original park, both the TreeTop owners and the ICC leadership have vehemently denied having any prior knowledge of the residential zoning, insisting that they relied on the expertise of a professional engineering firm. Neighbors and some town officials, however, contend that the engineer’s plans were poorly prepared and possibly deceptive — leaving out any references to 0 Ward Well Road, for instance — and they have questioned the Kerrs’ decision to hire Danena Inc., which is owned by former Canton conservation agent Robert Murphy. Currently listed on the ICC website as a board member, Murphy was penalized in 2015 by the state ethics board for multiple conflict of interest violations stemming from his work on Canton projects.

Yet the Kerrs have claimed no knowledge of Murphy’s past dealings, with Molly Kerr indicating in a past interview that they chose him because Murphy was the engineer who had originally mapped all of the woods surrounding the property. Attorneys for both the Kerrs and the ICC have also publicly defended TreeTop’s owners as innocent victims, much like the neighbors on Ward Well Road, who were not given notice of the original permit application due to a discrepancy in the filings.

Ed Tasi, who previously filed suit against TreeTop and the ICC for that very reason, has stated on multiple occasions that his issue was with the approval process and the park’s proximity to his home, not with the park itself or the Kerrs personally.

Reached last week, Tasi reiterated that he loves amusement parks and did not spend a significant amount of his own money just to spoil others’ fun. Rather, he simply wanted his voice to be heard and for the town to enforce its own zoning laws.

As far as the Kerrs’ plan to relocate the park to the main ICC campus, Tasi said it sounds like a “wonderful idea.”

“That’s awesome to me,” he said of the news. “All they would be doing is putting it on the proper plot. As I’ve said before, I’m not a cranky old man. I’m happy that they can stay, truthfully.”

“It is a victory because the people that like the park would still have it and the people that have problems with the noise, it’s much further away, so it’s a win-win,” he added.

For the Kerrs, having to rebuild from scratch is hardly their first choice, and it will certainly be a costly undertaking if approved by the town. At the same time, they said they are committed to being good neighbors and are deeply invested in their relationships with their customers, the town, and the Irish Cultural Centre.

“Ultimately, our customers really love TreeTop Adventures,” said Molly, “and we’re in this for the long haul, so we didn’t think twice about rebuilding. We’re looking at the rebuild as a chance to make the experience even better.”

Topher said he considers both the ICC and Canton as a whole as an ideal fit for TreeTop. “One of the reasons we’re hoping to stay on the Irish Cultural Centre campus is that it’s a great organization with an emphasis on outdoor recreation and cultural education,” he said. “The campus has loads of great trees for our zip-lining and challenge course elements, fields for team-building activities, and plenty of parking for our school field trips. Canton is a perfect location, as our customers want to experience zip-lines without traveling to western Massachusetts or New Hampshire.”

He estimated that it would take approximately six weeks to take down the existing park, adding that they plan to leave the site in better shape than when they went into it.

He indicated that they will be “pushing hard” for a spring opening, although it will depend on a variety of factors, including the weather and how smoothly the permit approval process goes.

Already Topher said they have begun working on preliminary designs, and he estimated that the new park would be about 70 percent similar to the original. The major differences, he said, is that the new park will be more spread out with longer and more zip-lines, and they will be improving approximately 30 to 40 of the existing 130 or so course elements.

“There will still be 10 trails and they will be appropriately named after famous beautiful sites in Ireland,” he said. “But it will be a new course, and we’re going to be inviting people to come and try it again and we’re very excited about the new design and new layout.”

The ICC is also thrilled with the plans for the new course and offered their wholehearted endorsement of TreeTop Adventures and the Kerr family.

“TreeTop Adventures has been a tremendous new asset to the Irish Cultural Centre’s programming, enhancing the wide selection of athletic, recreational, educational and cultural experiences offered on the ICC campus,” said Greg Jackson, ICC executive director. “We look forward to a long and strong partnership with TreeTop Adventures as we continue to offer diverse recreational opportunities to the residents of Canton and to our surrounding communities.”

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