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Alanna Murray. Cypress Hills Eco-Adventures. Photo by Megan Lacelle.

Alanna Murray walks around the University of Regina exuding energy. The petite 24-year-old education student is majoring in French and theatre right now. However, in less than two months Murray will be spending her days 40 ft. in the air. She’s a zip line guide at Cypress Hills Eco-Adventures, a job she’s had five summers in a row.

 

“It’s become a part of my identity,” Murray laughs. “It’s a zip line and it’s a family. I could see myself doing this for the rest of my life.”

 

Five years ago no one could imagine a zip line running hundreds of feet through Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park, no one except founder, President and CEO Jori Kirk. He and VP of Cypress Hills Eco-Adventures, Nick Coburn, have developed a business that draws thousands of people each year. More than 18,000 people visited the site last year alone, with 30 per cent being return customers.

 

“We don’t want it to be a factory,” says Murray. “No two tours are the same.”

 

The atmosphere at Cypress Hills Eco-Adventures thrives on making each guest feel special. Introductions are made immediately and no tour begins until all names are known. Murray says it’s in that five minutes that guides are able to gain the trust of the participants who rely on them to take the eight person tour from line to line safely. As one of the first guides to ever ride the line, Murray knows how guests are feeling up in the lodgepole pines.

 

“I love working with people and watching them find that point of courage, watching them become more confident.”

 

Murray says Kirk, 33, and Coburn, 31, work hard to create an environment that’s inclusive. She has had people on tour with a variety of disabilities, from blindness to missing limbs.

 

“People think it’s limiting, but it’s not. If you can make that first climb you can do it.”

 

This year the Saskatchewan zip line is expanding. The new site, Elk Ridge, opens on June 6th by Waskesiu Lake. Kirk’s hoping it will encompass the same atmosphere as Cypress – even though it’s twice the linear length. The tour runs a total of 4,000 ft. zipping through pockets of white spruce, black spruce, birch, and aspen – even running within a golf course.

 

Each zip line is built with 60 ft. utility poles, with platforms ranging from 18ft to 40ft high – giving participants a unique experience.

 

The company has won several awards since its opening in 2011, most recently the 2014 Tourism Industry Association of Canada - Hilton Worldwide Small to Medium-Sized Business of the Year Award. Kirk credits the solidity of the business and the passion of their staff. Coburn is currently nominated for CBC’s Future 40, a title Kirk won last year.

 

“I think we're finding people that are genuinely welcoming and have that way to them that makes people feel comfortable and in our industry and our business that's critical,” Kirk said.

 Alanna Murray Cypress Hills Eco-Adventures

 

“For us we need you to be friendly but we also need you to be compassionate and to be very engaged and I think the people we've been fortunate enough to have out at our site embody all of those things.”

 

Originally from Climax, Kirk and Coburn work hard to maintain a small town feel to their business.

 

“We want to show people that we really do care,” Kirk said. “We didn't create the tourism industry in the Cypress Hills, we benefitted from it. We want to make sure we're always giving back to that region and making sure it's sustainable is crucially important. I think no matter how big you grow or how far you take this thing, that that is something that will never be lost because it's in you - it's an important thing.”

 

For Murray, growing up in nearby Maple Creek, Cypress Hills Eco-Adventures is the epitome of what she loves in life.

 

“It kind of really reinforced that I wanted to be in education, because you just teach people all day,” Murray said. “When people are really scared and they make it all the way to the end how proud of themselves they are, how confident they feel and they want to do it again, I love that part.”