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Cavern catering to thrill-seekers

Ryan GraffGlenwood Springs correspondent

On Friday, 77-year-old Jody Grieb was more worried about her lunch than her life. Grieb was among a handful of people who had won the chance for one of the first rides on The Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park’s four new attractions. Grieb’s daughter, Dee Wagner, of Manitou Springs, had been at the Caverns months earlier and submitted the name Swing Shot for one of the most talked-about new adventures. Wagner won – along with Nancy and Katie MacGregor, of Rifle, who submitted the same name – and on Friday stood with friends and family on the rim of Glenwood Canyon underneath a giant swing that would send them out over the canyon 1,300 feet above the Colorado River. “You’re over 48 inches tall, you’ve had a full life,” joked Wagner’s husband, Jay, to Grieb. “I’ve had a full lunch, too,” Grieb joked back. The worry over her lunch turned out to be all for naught, though, as Grieb managed to keep everything where it should have been and screamed as she swung above the canyon. This was the official first weekend for the new attractions at Glenwood Caverns, and Friday was a kind of try-out day as workers still hustled about with drills and levels, and the smell of sawdust still hung in the air. “We’ve been working night and day [to open],” said Steve Beckley, who owns the Caverns with his wife, Jeanne. In the last few months the company has spent between $1 million and $1.5 million to add Swing Shot, Canyon Flyer, Alpine Rush, Doc’s Rock, the Adventure Tour, four new cars to its tramway and a saloon at the top of Iron Mountain. The new attractions mean the Caverns needed to increase employment from 150 last year to 200 this year, said Beckley. With all the new activity at the Caverns, there were bound to be some firsts. The most notable is the Canyon Flyer, which is known in Europe as an alpine coaster and is the first of its kind in the United States. On the Canyon Flyer, cars ride on a pair of steel tracks that turn and dip down the side of Iron Mountain. The cars are nearly silent on polyurethane wheels. There are more than 360 alpine coasters worldwide, and more than 60 in Germany alone, where alpine coasters are manufactured, said Jürgen Ruschke, general manager of Wiegand Slides.The Glenwood Caverns’ distinction as having the only alpine coaster isn’t likely to last long though, as Ruschke has had visitors from companies in Massachusetts and Utah interested in building one. Even with alpine coasters showing up in other U.S. locations, the Caverns’ new features should attract customers. The cave and tramway alone drew 150,000 people in 2003. Those numbers dipped slightly in 2004, but the new attractions should increase the Caverns’ ability to attract repeat customers, said Beckley. With all the activity at the top of Iron Mountain, the base is also due for a change. Foundation work for a new 72-room hotel – the AmericInn at the Caverns – should begin in a few weeks, said Beckley. Glenwood Springs accountant Steve Carver is the developer of the hotel, but Beckley said the five-story hotel is planned to open in November. Even with the recent build-up of Glenwood Caverns – which Beckley is careful to call an adventure park, not an amusement park – even more attractions may find their way to the top of Iron Mountain someday. The Beckleys have talked about a planetarium or butterfly museum. For now, though, the Beckleys said they just want to “heal-up” from recent round-the-clock work.


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