Segway tours bring riders close to nature

By Tori Hamby

HUNTERSVILLE – Visitors at Latta Plantation Nature Preserve can explore the preserve’s 1,300-acres at a marathon runner’s pace without even breaking a sweat.

Kevin Pimental, an outdoor recreation specialist at Latta Plantation Nature Preserve, demonstrates how to operate a Segway. The preserve offers tours of its 1,300-acres using the two-wheeled, battery-powered electric vehicles. (Tori Hamby/MI Monitor photo)

All you have to do is hop up on one of the preserve’s all-terrain Segways – two-wheeled, self-balancing vehicles – and rock back and forth to move the device through the preserve’s nature trails that border Mountain Island Lake.

“It’s a way to see a lot of wildlife along the trails,” Kevin Pimentel, the preserve’s outdoor recreation specialist, said. “We’ve had a deer run across one the paths … we’ve seen a box turtle, some copperheads. There used to be a barred owl that would follow us when we did sunset tours.”

The preserve, which is operated through Mecklenburg County’s Parks and Recreation Department, at 5226 Sample Road, began offering all-terrain Segway Adventure tours four years ago, around the time the Segway craze began picking up in major cities and tourist attractions. Tourism companies in places such as Chicago, Charleston, S.C., and Charlotte offer tours of their cities using the devices, which move at a faster pace than walking tours.

Pimentel said all-terrain Segway tours, which take riders up close to nature, aren’t as common.

Pimentel and his staff begin tours by showing tour participants a video on how to operate the battery-powered electric vehicles safely. Participants must sign a waiver releasing the preserve from liability for injuries that might occur on the trail and pay $35 per person.

Accidents are rare – Pimentel said in four years about four injuries have required immediate medical attention.

“We do have falls every now and then, but we do everything we can to show people how to operate them safely.”

Hollis Parks, a seasonal environmental educator at the preserve, said the Segways hit about 12 miles per hour, roughly the pace of a marathon runner. Tours participants usually go at a slower speed, depending on how riders adjust to the machines.

Webb Dowdy took his niece’s husband, Matt Filpi, on a tour during his visit to Charlotte from Dallas, Texas. Filpi said the tour offered a different view of the Charlotte area.

“I was nice to see the city of Charlotte, but it has also been nice to see the parks,” he said.

Dowdy has taken the tour three times.

“It’s a great setting,” he said. “I keep bringing back my friends and family.”

Visitors wanting tours December through February must book privately. Temperatures must be above 50 degrees – the machines don’t work well in cold weather – and visitors must book at least two days in advance.

All riders must be older than 18, weigh between 100 and 260 pounds, wear closed-toe shoes and be able to stand for extended periods of time.

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