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Bonsai Design: Adventure-installation company grows in Grand Junction

Bonsai Design, a Grand Junction-based zipline and aerial adventure course business, designed this canopy tour for the Boy Scouts of America Jamboree site in Mt. Hope, W.V.
Bonsai Design |

ABOUT BONSAI’S OWNERS

All three owners of Bonsai Design are Grand Valley residents who work hard and play hard in the outdoors.

Thaddeus Shrader, 38, and Sarah Walker Shrader, 40, moved to Grand Junction in 2004 for work.

John Walker, Sarah’s 41-year-old brother, has been a Grand Junction resident since 2007.

The Shraders also have three boys — Luke, 11, Henry, 9, and Oliver, 7.

“They like it when they have to go on work trips,” Thaddeus said with a smile. “They definitely get to test our courses.”

Sarah added: “They’re not afraid of heights or going fast.”

All three Bonsai owners enjoy recreation year round, too.

“We live for the snow in the winter, and in the summer we live for the water,” Sarah said — mountain biking, hiking, skiing, camping and sailing are just a few favorite activities.

Powderhorn Mountain Resort is also a winter hotspot for the Shrader family.

“We live up there,” Sarah said. “It’s a huge part of our joy living in this town.”

And if you see Thaddeus and Sarah on Valentine’s Day — Friday, Feb. 14 — be sure to wish them a happy anniversary of sorts.

“We’ve been married almost 13 years,” Sarah said, “and we had our first date on Valentine’s Day in 1999.”

FUN FACTS ABOUT BONSAI DESIGN

The team has 20 years of experience in the aerial adventure course industry, and 10 years of experience developing high-throughput, recreation-focused, commercial zipline tours.

Bonsai designed and constructed six big zip-ride style, multi-line installations, including individual lines of up to 3,600 feet in length.

Bonsai’s commercial programs total more than 400 ziplines installed.

The Bonsai team also pioneered the first twin-line system in the U.S., the first “whisper zip” zipline systems, and the hand-brake optional zipline canopy tour interface.

Bonsai Design was chosen as “Best in Class” by the Boy Scouts of America for the 2013 Jamboree and by the California regional arm of the Forest Service.

SOURCE: Bonsai Design

The seed for Bonsai Design was planted when 19-year-old summer camp counselor John Walker volunteered to fix a ropes course for his employer, Camp Tamarack, in Ortonville, Mich.

Now 22 years later, this Grand Junction-based firm has installed aerial adventure courses and ziplines (where folks strap into harnesses and fly through the air by way of secured cables) in 16 states and two in Canada. And with eight projects already on the books for 2014 and even more for 2015, this downtown Grand Junction business is staying quite busy.

Bonsai Design has also burgeoned from one man’s vision to 113 employees; it officially became incorporated in 2005, and it’s owned and managed as a family — John and sister Sarah Walker Shrader are founders and co-owners, with Sarah’s husband Thaddeus Shrader an owner and CEO.



John and Sarah joined forces first in 2005. Then when Thaddeus “hung up his spurs” as a pilot and aeronautical engineer for Frontier Airlines in 2008, things really started happening.

“We’ve been nonstop growth ever since,” Sarah said. “Our number of employees vacillates, with many field jobs.”



With Thaddeus adding, “over the past three years, we’ve grown between 200 and 300 percent each year.”

In 2013, they bought Grand Junction’s historic Union Station downtown (at 201 South Ave.) and set up shop by the train tracks. Bonsai also has two satellite offices — in North Carolina and West Virginia.

“It’s truly a family business,” Sarah said, with John roving between project sites and the couple holding down the fort at their main office.

ARTISTIC VISION

According to the owners, what makes Bonsai stand out from the pack is their focus on working with nature, not against it.

“John’s true calling is to be a tree whisperer, finding out where the things we build want to live in nature,” Sarah explained.

“We’re paying high attention to detail on the aesthetic appeal of products we put out there. Everybody likes beautiful things.”

High-quality design work “makes a tour speak for itself,” Thaddeus noted. And when creating an adventure course or zipline park, the Bonsai crew works hard to create a “sense of place” specific to an installation site’s unique environment.

Bonsai also uses “indigenous materials and existing geographic features to create courses that reflect the surroundings, and blend the program objectives with the environment,” its website said.

Copper Mountain Resort’s Alpine Rush Zipline is one example of a recent Bonsai project; it was constructed two years ago.

“It is a great village attraction for us,” Copper’s communications manager Austyn Williams said. “(It) runs in both the summer and the winter months.”

Copper’s zipline “flies more than 300 feet over West Lake in our Center Village,” Williams added. “The feel is unique with ice skaters bustling underneath guests as they fly over.”

Bonsai also built three large-scale courses for Navitat Canopy Adventures (http://www.navitat.com) — one in Asheville, N.C., and two in Wrightwood, Calif. A fourth is currently in the works for the Asheville location.

Navitat Canopy Adventures President Ken Stamps said he continues to use Bonsai to develop his adventure destinations because “they are able to do things that other designers cannot do.” He attributes their success to a unique combination of environmentalism, state-of-the-art engineering, and design work.

“We have a vision at Navitat to create an experience that is truly environmental, combined with the thrill aspect of a zipline course, Stamps noted. “They have been able to take our brand and vision, and represent it in their work.”

Other notable Bonsai projects close to home include Durango Mountain Resort in 2011, Royal Gorge Ziplines in 2012 and 2013, Steamboat Resorts and Beaver Creek Resort coming in 2014, along with Breckenridge Resort and Vail Resort set for 2015.

And though much of what Bonsai does is off site and often a plane ride away, having the main office based in Grand Junction continues to be beneficial.

“It’s a perfect, central place to be,” Sarah said.

Plus, “access to (Grand Junction’s) industrial center is paramount,” Thaddeus said.

The Bonsai team’s private research and development space is located in Grand Junction as well — in the Redlands near the Colorado National Monument.

“There are two ziplines and one challenge course up,” Sarah said. “It’s not open to the public,” and it’s used for testing.

Visit http://www.bonsai-design.com for more information, or like them on Facebook by searching for Bonsai Design, Inc.


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