PRB Articles


A Thrilling Payoff

Is it time to start looking at your park like an entrepreneur would?

Business owners of outdoor adventures, such as whitewater rafting, kayaking and backcountry hiking, have a vested interest (i.e., their own money) in making a business work.

Perhaps your park has a few hidden or not-so-hidden gems that can develop into a revenue stream.

Before jumping in, learn what it takes to operate and maintain a high-impact facility--such as a zipline--to determine whether it’s something your outfit can handle.

Explore The Possibilities

Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Yosemite National Park in California, the Sierra Nevada Recreation Corporation’s Twin Zip Lines were constructed three years ago at Moaning Cavern Adventure Park. The company’s president, Stephen Fairchild, decided to build a tower with two ziplines after he learned from a consulting company the region didn’t have any ziplines.

“We decided to put in twin lines because people like doing adventures together,” says Fairchild. “You have to think about what the customer wants, and then provide what they want.”

Moaning Cavern’s launch tower stands 20 feet high and is accessed by a 60-foot-long sky bridge. The twin lines are 12 feet apart and pass over the Gold Country foothills. Riders--known as “zippers”--travel 1,500 feet over grassy areas and through a pine and oak forest.

The site is open year-round except during storms, lightning or wind.

As important as it is to deliver an experience, Fairchild adds, meeting the design and engineering needs of the tower is paramount; he recommends seeking advice and assistance from a zipline expert--even for those with an engineering background.

Daily Operations

Sierra Nevada Recreation Corp. developed trolleys and stopping mechanisms specifically designed for the ziplines. On a busy day, four operators work in the launch tower--two people rig, while two launch the riders. At the receiving tower, there is one catcher and one de-rigger per line.

Riders can return to the top via a stroll along a nature trail that leads back to the outfitting area and visitors’ center, or they can catch a ride back on the equipment vehicle, which returns the gear to the outfitting station for a safety check before it is used again.

Although participants can reach speeds of more than 40 mph, their descent depends on more than just their weight. In some cases, air drag might prevent riders from reaching the end of the zipline, and then the employees need to retrieve them. If a crosswind blows a rider sideways, that slows the progress as well. To prevent this from occurring, the rig is outfitted with weights.

Zippers who weigh at least 70 pounds can ride three different ways:

• A seated zip

• Tandem

• Super-style.

The regular zip launches with the rider standing. In a tandem zip, two fully rigged people sit in the same trolley.

“The tandem works to allow smaller children to experience the zipline with a parent or an adult,” says Fairchild.

For those brave souls channeling their inner super-hero, there is the super-style zip where the rider launches from a horizontal position.

Of course, before anyone takes to the zipline, each passenger must complete a release and waiver-of-liability form. To make it easy, the form is available online so riders can review and sign it prior to arriving.

Training

“We work at making sure the site is safe and our operators are well-trained,” says Fairchild.

Employees responsible for day-to-day operations receive 14 or 15 days of training on everything from how to properly rig, launch, and receive the riders to how to deal with patrons in a respectable way. Receivers learn how to stop riders and how to retrieve stranded riders. All operators are required to stay current on training.

Repeat Riders

To encourage repeat guests, Fairchild recommends giving people value for their time and money. For example, a zipline ride costs $39 the first time; the rider is then issued a card for discounts for follow-up visits. For added incentives, occasional free passes are given to frequent zippers.

Fairchild explains that a large number of people simply come out and watch the zippers from under the zipline. Sales to these spectators also generate income. To make sure these people are safe, the zippers racing down the lines are not allowed to have any items that can fall out of their pockets--everything must be secured.

Building A Business Model

Marketing a site means developing good relationships with television, newspapers and magazines.

“We have television crews in frequently, as well as newspapers and magazines,” says Fairchild. “We also put out brochures and distribute them ourselves. We do anything we can that works.”

Surveying people on how they heard about an outfit also is helpful.

Pairing ziplines with another activity can spur interest as well. Additional activities at Moaning Cavern include a walking tour, 165-foot-rope rappelling, caving adventure trips, and a 32-foot climbing tower. Other nearby attractions, such as Gold Cliff Mining, Black Chasm Cavern, Boyden Caverns and Sutter Gold Mine, offer everything from panning for gold and geode-cracking to walking tours and canyoneering.

A visitors’ center sells tickets to the ride as well as standard souvenir fare, such as property-branded sweatshirts, T-shirts and hats as well as gemstones, books and even gold. Concessions are also sold.

In considering the longevity of your park, is it time to challenge the status quo and start thinking like an entrepreneur? Look around the facilities for various possibilities. It could mean the adrenaline rush of a lifetime!

Tammy York is the owner of LandShark Communications LLC which specializes in media and public relations for outdoor recreation businesses. Her book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Cincinnati, is available online and in bookstores. You can reach her at tammy@landsharkcommunications.com.

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