Teachers look to build zipline off Big Flat as part of outdoor business expansion

Two outdoor adventure companies owned by a pair of teachers are looking to expand their business by seeking a permit to install a zipline on property off Big Flat Road west of Missoula.

Proposed by Jared and Sara Forsythe, the project looks to create “an outdoor experience” for tourists with informational displays on local history and the natural environment.

Missoula County is looking to gather more information as the project moves toward consideration.

“There’s some information we have not gotten back from some of the agency partners that would comment on things like wildlife,” said Chet Crowser of county planning services. “There were a couple of items in there we were waiting for some feedback on to really flush out a staff report that had all those bases covered.”

The project would install the attraction on two parcels totaling around 320 acres. The properties include an elevation gain of around 1,600 feet and are surrounded by both private and public land.

“The goal is to create an outdoor experience for tourists that exclusively allows them to stay in a tree canopy the entire time,” the request letter states. “Participants will be able to meet at the property and then board a UTV ride, and then zip through the air on a two-and-a-half-hour tour focused on education and appreciation of nature.”

The Forsythes own and operate two other recreation companies, including Adventure Missoula, which offers rafting trips down the Alberton Gorge.

Sara Forsythe founded the Zootown Art and Community Center and served as its executive director for seven years. The couple expanded their company into the Missoula market last year and said the zipline represents a business expansion.

While the project is pending review, the couple believes it adheres to the county’s comprehensive plan, including that for open space and working lands. They plan to conduct fire mitigation work and keep the property open, less a gate they plan to install on an existing logging road.

But the project came as a surprise to commissioners, who said they’ve “been receiving a ton of correspondence” from the Big Flat area. The county said Thursday it will ask the business partners to push back their hearing date and conduct more public outreach about the project.

“Ultimately, it will be up to them to decide if that’s something they want to do,” said Crowser. “But from a professional standpoint, we think there would be some value in them pursuing those options.”