By FAYE TRAFFORD
Growing up on their family farm in Rocky Hill, Sean Hayes and his two brothers spent their days roaring through the countryside.
“We had thousands of acres to explore and run around in,” he said.
And where residents of Portland saw old brownstone quarries the Hayeses— now all grown up— saw an opportunity to recreate the breathtaking exploits of their boyhood. They leased the quarry, flooded it and in 2007 rigged it with zip lines and an ever-evolving array of climbing and jumping challenges.
Today, the owners and operators of Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park say they have been able to give visitors a taste of the free-ranging, exhilirating childhood they enjoyed.
While Hayes said the mystique of the flooded quarry appeals to everyone, the park’s most popular attraction is cliff jumping.
“This is what I did when I was 11 and I wanted my kids to have that same opportunity,” he said. “We wanted to
give our families the same adventures.”
Brownstone offers rock climbing, wakeboarding, cliff jumping, 12 zip lines including triple racing lines, a cargo net climb, beach area, volleyball, walking trails and challenge courses as well as scuba diving and snorkeling. When you need a break, there is also a cliff-top picnic area which offers panoramic views of the park.
Visitors will find no staircases at Brownstone. Part of the fun, Hayes said, is swimming, climbing, walking or running from one activity to the next.
“This is not a conservative tree or canopy tour,” he explained. “Zip-lining, you’re coming off a 70-foot cliff going across the quarry and splashing into the water.”
The intensity of the attractions means that it’s best enjoyed by families with children age 8 and older.
“It’s designed for older kids, teens and, well, those of us who still feel like we’re twentysomething,” he laughed.
The park hosts school and corporate teambuilding programs, and group dis- counts are available. The challenge courses combine multiple sports and physical tests. Visitors can compete one -on-one against their friends, or race as teams. Brownstone also prides itself on its educational programs, including instruction in rock climbing, scuba diving, wakeboarding, lifeguarding, and CPR.
You can rent scuba and other equipment on a first-come, first-serve basis. An all-day kayak rental for two people runs $45. There are also picnic areas and floating gazebos available for rent, for 12 to 300 guests.
“We’re pulling in people from New York, Massachusetts, all over,” Hayes said. “We open at 10 a.m. and close at 7, and still, you cannot get through all of the attractions in a day. You are busy the whole time.”
New this year, the park is open until 10 p.m. on Saturdays. Guests can enjoy a free movie under the tent or try nighttime ziplining. A 25% “second shift” discount on admission is available from 4 to 10 p.m.
“We’re not out to gouge people,” Hayes said. “[Under $30] gets you an all-day, all-access pass for everything except wakeboarding. You can bring your own food and drink, and parking is free.”
If you don’t feel like packing lunch, the full concessions are open daily and offer hot dogs, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, grilled chicken, chicken tenders, fries, pizza, clam chowder, chili and a variety of frosted treats. Meal combos start at $8.50 and there are allyou-can eat meal plans.
Watching the park grow and reliving his childhood, Hayes said, has been very rewarding.
“We have huge repeat business, and that’s the best part of this— the feedback you get. We host a group and those same people will come back with their families. We get calls from operators, who tell us that everyone fell asleep on the bus going home. And that’s what we’re going for.”