Thomas Falls' 'Zipline through the Lights' creates Christmas thrills for East Texans
Dec. 13, 2017 at 10:30 p.m.
DIANA — Children pile into a wagon hauled by a tractor through a thick pine tree forest illuminated by red and green Christmas lights. They gasp audibly as it rounds a corner and reveals a small lake surrounded by even more lights. At the center of it all is a Christmas village, the place where Santa awaits their arrival.
But this peaceful scene isn't the evening's main draw; the real attraction is adrenaline. Soon the group will be strapped into harnesses and flying across 900 feet of zipline through the lights and trees and over the lake.
At Thomas Falls Zipline Challenge Course and Outdoor Adventures, near Diana, the grounds are transformed every year for "Zipline through the Lights." From now to Dec. 30, visitors can zipline two or three lines, ride "Santa's sleigh" and more. The park is closed Dec. 24 and 25.
Owner Stan Thomas said the process of redecorating the property begins the day after Halloween, when Thomas Falls offers "Zipline with the Zombies." He said it "takes a lot," including about 100,000 lights, to decorate the 7 acres of land visible to visitors.
"We don't do anything normal," Thomas said. "It's all kind of out of the box."
Almost everything at "Redneck Disneyland," as Thomas calls it, was created by hand. Thomas even dug the lake.
As soon as this holiday season is over, Thomas said, he and his staff will begin preparations for this spring's mud run and warm-weather activities, such as a ropes course and water obstacles.
"It's always getting bigger," Thomas said. "We try to have a new surprise every year. We are always thinking like that."
Today the village includes entertainment for visitors waiting to get harnessed up. There's a fire for roasting marshmallows, a replica of Bethleham including a Nativity scene, a giant Christmas card to sign and more. Santa Claus brings small gifts for the children.
Thomas said "Zipline through the Lights" is now the biggest draw at Thomas Falls and continues to attract more people each year.
Natalie Bloodworth, 32, of Marshall came with her husband and two sons as part of a birthday party recently. Though they were concerned by the initial wait before the activities got started, Bloodworth said she was impressed by the property's lights and decorations once they got to the village.
"I don't know anywhere else that you can zipline and have a sleigh ride with Santa," Bloodworth said. "At Santa Land, you can sit on Santa's lap, but he doesn't zipline in."
Bloodworth said the children loved the sleigh ride, and she is thinking about bringing her family back next year.
Thomas Falls typically receives up to about 30 people at a time and adds more slots as reservations fill up. Visitors show up after sundown to sign waivers and take the wagon ride down to the village. The whole evening takes about two hours, but could take longer when larger groups come through.
Customers select from a two-line course for $29 and three lines for $39. Sleigh rides cost $5 to $7. For non-zipliners, the wagon ride to the village is $10 to $15.
Kathy Kalar, 57, drove almost two hours from Louisiana to visit Thomas Falls recently. She said she wanted to have a "fun adventure" with her daughter and four grandchildren, whom she needed for moral support on the zipline.
Kalar said she hopes to bring some of her other grandchildren to Thomas Falls next year, though the group she brought this year was already asking to go again tomorrow.
"Everyone who works with the kids was really, really good, so that made a big difference," she said.
Kalar said it was her first time coming to Thomas Falls. She initially wanted to provide something exciting for the children to do, but she eventually decided to join in.
She said her heart was racing after the initial 90-foot drop.
"It was wonderful. The highlight was when I thought I was going to slam into (the zipline platform) because I was going so fast," Kalar said. "The second time, I thought, 'All right, I'm jumping. It's no big deal now.'"