Feature Article - April 2018
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Adventure Awaits!

Adding Climbing Walls, Challenge Courses, Zip Lines and Other Exciting Options

By Dave Ramont

Adventure Parks

Historic Banning Mills, located in Carroll County, Ga., is a nonprofit retreat and conservation center with a mission of preserving the unique ecosystems of the Snake Creek Gorge and Chattahoochee watershed areas, as well as the historic site of Banning, Ga. The 400-acre site is also home to Historic Banning Mills Adventure Park.

Several companies operate under the umbrella of Historic Banning Mills, including a company that provides design, construction and installation services, as well as professional inspections, training and consultations in the adventure industry. Patrick Avery, Adventure and Designs operation manager, has simple advice for facilities looking to add adventure amenities: "Design from the foundation of the customer experience."

Avery pointed out that any activity has inherent risks, which are greatly increased when you put that activity at height. So course design and building materials need to be in scope and up to par with professional industry standards. "The engineering has to match the operations, and these two factors need to be considered from the beginning. And if you're looking at building a zip line canopy tour, consider a continuous belay system to ensure guests are as safe as possible while at height."

Avery also suggests that your marketing should match the operation and desired client base. "Research your area and your potential draw. Know who your competitors are and add something new every year."

Historic Banning Mills (HBM) Adventure Park has what's considered to be the world's largest zip line canopy tour, with six levels to choose from. Avery said there are 10 miles of course with many tour options, set up as a progressive experience. All guests begin with level one and continue in sequence, with the first five taking around 8 hours. "Level six is a two-day, 16-hour experience," said Avery, "the only way to see the entire course."

Many add-on experiences are available, including challenge courses and numerous sky bridges, some of which are family-friendly, taking place not far off the ground, while other elements are nearly 200 feet up. "These are designed to wear you out, and challenge you physically and mentally," Avery said.

He added that the sky bridges in the canopy tour are like aerial hiking trails, allowing guests to crisscross over the Snake Creek Gorge and enjoy breathtaking views. "The zip lines do the same thing; however, moving at 20 to 60 miles per hour doesn't allow you much time to take in the view!"

The 140-foot climbing wall at HBM holds the Guinness world record for tallest free-standing artificial rock wall in the world, Avery said, which also features a 100-foot free fall and six zip lines. "We have four climbing walls and two rappel walls on our 150-foot pole tower."

As far as safety inspections, Avery said that industry standards mandate they perform daily and monthly inspections using in-house technicians, with a third-party annual inspection.

HBM also conducts corporate and team-building programs featuring low and high-ropes courses and GPS adventure challenges, and there are youth summer camps as well. Lodging is available, from motel-style rooms to cabins and a treehouse village accessed by netted suspension bridges. Other amenities include dining options, hiking trails, horseback riding, kayaking and whitewater trekking, a fishing lake and swimming pool.

Climbing Options

As climbing moves closer to the mainstream, many types of climbing walls to fit many budgets have become available. Frain said the vast majority of her company's installations are custom-made, with facilities wanting walls to match their programming needs and aesthetics. "Our team does all of the design, fabrication and installation. The steel and wood components are created in our shop in Boulder, Colo."

Frain pointed out that the walls require virtually no maintenance, just the regular inspections. "Soft goods like harnesses, ropes and shoes need to be replaced when their noticeable wear reaches a certain level," she added.

Some of the offerings available include climbing boulders, which are hand-sculpted, climbable works-of-art available in different sizes, perfect for parks or playgrounds. "Their surface looks, feels and climbs like either granite or sandstone," Frain said.

A panelized wall made from engineered wood panels offers a quick-installation alternative. Modular climbing towers and walls made from UV-resistant fiberglass are a high-throughput, low-cost option with a small footprint. If there's a CMU wall or external wall containing studs, Frain suggests outdoor climbing slabs made from an engineered marine-grade foam material, for an inexpensive traverse wall or tall roped-climbing wall.

"If you'd like to add roped climbing as an outdoor attraction, a rock-realistic wall or tower is a great option. Like the boulders, these look, feel and climb like real rock," Frain said. She added that, depending on programming objectives, a facility could use auto belays so a person can climb without a belayer, creating a very high throughput. Or if they want to teach rope skills, they can have roped belaying.

Frain explained that the walls have attachment points, called t-nuts, for climbing holds. "We strongly recommend that staff do change routes frequently. Climbers will get bored and not come back if the routes are the same every time. If a facility doesn't have their own route setters, they can often hire setters from a local climbing gym to come in periodically to change routes."

One recent project of Frain's company was ProjectRock, the largest climbing gym in Florida. The Oakland Park facility offers more than 18,000 square feet of climbing and bouldering with 80 climbing lanes and over 125 routes on walls reaching 60 feet tall. The walls include rock-realistic terrain carved and painted to look and climb like rock found in Yosemite, Red River Gorge and Devil's Tower, iconic climbing destinations.

"Our designers and construction crews are climbers, so we know these climbing areas intimately," Frain said. "We employ master carvers and painters who are able to provide a realistic interpretation of the crack systems, surface texture and coloration."