Feature Article - October 2016
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Your Best Fest Yet

Trends and Strategies for Fun Events and Festivals

By Chris Gelbach

Setting the Stage

Festivals and events give park districts and communities an opportunity to highlight their recreational offerings, while doing it in a way that creates the feeling of a special occasion. "If you've got an entryway into the park that isn't there the rest of the time, it makes it feel like something special," Schmader said.

Bought strategically, things like decorations and signage can also be something you build upon year by year, creating an increasingly impressive package that grows over time. The same can be said of staging, since park districts can gradually build up their portable staging equipment to allow for versatility, ease of relocation and integrated technology that can be used for multiple events.

"Seasoned parks and recreation managers usually know that a situation can change at the last minute and there won't be enough time to get new accommodating items from a certain vendor," said Jody Bailey, strategic account director for a leading provider of portable staging equipment. "Hence, they often have enough variety on hand for different or changing occasions: different stage decks, different-height legs, alternate power and light sources, and versatile vendors that can be rearranged in minutes."

Upping the Fun Factor

In the realm of creating thrilling attractions for short-term events, park districts and communities also have more purchase and rental options at the ready than ever before.

According to Bill Carlson, director of sales and marketing for a leading providing of climbing, zip line and free fall products, options are now available that offer a more economical way of providing these thrills at a reasonable price.

One such alternative is a system that can add climbing holds onto an existing tree, making it portable to different events and less expensive than a mobile climbing wall of comparable height. "Instead of purchasing a climbing wall for a park, you can clip it onto a tree that's already in the park," Carlson said. "It's really safe for the treeā€”it doesn't damage it in any way and it gives that thrill and fun of climbing without having to make a major investment."

Carlson estimates that purchasing a vertical section of 8 to 10 feet with some basic fall protection could cost as little as $300, while a taller experience of 20 to 40 feet accompanied by an auto belay would run more like $3,000. He noted that the product is already in use at the Richmond Zoo and the Brevard Zoo, with both facilities moving the attraction around to different zoo areas. "The real advantage of it is that it's so modular and you can have a really exciting experience without that massive of an investment for rental fees," Carlson said.

While a park should have an arborist examine the health of the tree before the product is used, he said that little other preliminary setup is necessary. The same cannot be said of things like free-fall devices, which require more engineering and mounting know-how.

When it comes to rental products, one distributor Carlson's company works with that is a leader in the field offers a variety of thrill-seeking options for events, including mobile rock climbing walls, mobile zip lines, bungee trampolines, and even climbing towers that can accommodate up to 25 people at once without the need for harnesses.

Carlson noted that throughput can also be pretty high for products like the free-fall devices, which can accommodate a new jumper roughly every 90 seconds. Likewise, setting a time limit of 5 or 10 minutes per person on a climbing attraction can help maximize throughput.

"For free fall activities, I've seen charges of anywhere from $5 to $20," Carlson said. "When you look at the cost involved with the actual devices and everything [when buying the equipment], in a busy show you could make up the cost in a weekend."