Zip Lines And Aerial Adventures

Zip-line canopy tours are popping up everywhere, and aerial treks are quickly gaining in popularity.

From resort regions like Orlando, Fla., to smaller venues such as Hocking Hills, Ohio, zip lines are providing recreational facilities and destinations with an attraction for visitors to enjoy.

Aerial treks -- popular in the United Kingdom -- are appearing in the United States, with the latest addition in Dunlap, Tenn., near Chattanooga.

Location, Location, Location

When deciding if your place is viable for the installation and operation of a zip line, zip-line canopy tour or aerial adventure, look beyond the theory of “If you build it, they will come” because this isn’t necessarily the case.

Consider the location. Are you near a national park, major metro area or a tourist attraction that will bring in a constant stream of clientele?

“You need to take into consideration whether or not you are off a main thoroughfare that is going to get traffic,” says Don Stock, president and co-owner of The Adventure Guild, which specializes in designing, building and training for zip-line canopy tours and aerial adventures.

“Look for locations that have a million people living within a 100- to 200-mile radius,” says Steve Gustafson, owner and president of Experience Based Learning Inc., a Rockford, Ill.-based firm that designs, installs, and trains staff for zip-line tours. “People will typically drive an hour or two to get to you.”

Zip Line Or Aerial Adventure

Is your location prime for a zip line, zip-line canopy tour or aerial trek? Zip lines and zip-line canopy tours typically cover long spans and take advantage of the topography or vistas of the land. Plus, zip lines are powered by gravity. For places with limited space, aerial treks or adventures -- often referred to as ropes courses -- offer a mix of challenging elements with varying levels of difficulty.

“A zip line is a horizontally strung cable that takes you on a ride from a platform along a pulley, and gravity does all the work,” says Rich Petteruti, director of Lord Stirling Outdoor Education Center in New Jersey, which provides experiential education through customized adventure-based activities. “A ropes course includes physical and mental work to get to the next exercise.”

“People want to visit an area that has topography with enough relief or a unique terrain to be picturesque,” says Gustafson. “In Saint Cloud, Fla., near Disney World, the zip tour travels through pine and tropical forest and over slough wetlands with alligators.”

“Deciding between a zip and a ropes course depends on what you want out of it,” says Petteruti. “What are the goals and objectives? Is it recreation and commercial use to see an area from below or see a unique area from above? Then a zip line might be more appropriate. If it is for an educational purpose, a ropes course may be more of what you are looking for.”

Rules, Rules, Rules

Once you have decided on a zip line, zip-line canopy tour or aerial adventure and a location, determine the local and state building regulations and permits needed. Also, work with an insurance carrier to determine the proper coverage for the location and operation.

Vendors For The Duration

Select a vendor who can offer more than just building the facility. Opt for one who is experienced and can partner with your facility. Several established vendors will discount the building cost in return for the licensing fee, as well as help access and define the business model so the facility is sustainable and profitable. Through the licensing agreement, vendors are part of the business and share the risks.

“The more work you do on the front end at becoming knowledgeable, the better off you are going to be,” says Stock. “Don’t do it yourself. Find a reputable vendor who is able to guide you through the entire process of creating a business plan, designing, installing, maintaining and providing training to your staff.”

Accredited vendors are listed with the Professional Ropes Course Association (PRCA). Establish which vendors follow the PRCA’s standards and regulations for rope-course and zip-line development, and verify that they carry professional liability building insurance. Vendors of zip lines and aerial adventures must also adhere to local and state building codes.

“Make sure the vendor you are working with understands the engineering needed for the location where the zip line or aerial adventure is going to be installed,” says Gustafson. “This means blueprints, calculations and drawings wet-stamped and signed by an engineer.”

Some zip lines and aerial adventures can go through a variety of terrains, and builders have to understand and adhere to PRCA standards for building from tree to tree, tree stand, rock pinning, blasting and more.

“You are going to have an ongoing business relationship with the vendor for training and operational maintenance,” says Stock. “Understand it is not about the initial build--it is about the long-term relationship. The process of partnering is going to take some time.”

Visit, Dream, Plan

Start defining a business plan for the facility by including the initial start-up cost and ongoing costs of equipment, staffing, training, advertising and marketing. Visit other zip line, zip-line canopy tours and aerial adventure locations to see what the options are, and talk to owners to gain their seasoned advice.

Then begin dreaming what type of course you’d like to have at your site.

“Based on that, you’ll be able to get ideas on how much you’ll need to invest to install, operate, and maintain the course,” says Gustafson.

Have realistic expectations and express those to the builder. “There is a great deal of technical training in running a location safely and effectively,” says Stock.


“We don’t operate locations like an amusement park. We look for seasoned guides who have more maturity and a diverse background of experiences,” says Gustafson.

Guides, instructors and operators need to be trained on the safe operation of the course, and be able to show people how to use harnesses, pulleys and the equipment.

Staff needs to know how to handle emergencies and must have the skills to manage people using the course. Plus, staff needs to be trained on the area’s flora, fauna, geography and history.

“It is going to be a time-consuming business that will have constant staffing challenges,” says Stock.

Deciding on a zip line, zip-line canopy tour or aerial adventure is about more than the thrill of zipping along a cable or climbing up ropes--but that has a lot to do with it.

Tammy York is the owner of LandShark Communications LLC, which specializes in media and public relations for recreation businesses. Her upcoming book, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles of Cincinnati, is due out spring 2009, and can be pre-ordered through You can reach her at