So, the response to the news has been tremendous. And since I know that everyone is asking - I'll say a few words about what happened, where things are, and how we got from there to here.
As folks may or may not recall, we had a P&Z permit approval to build an outdoor course approved last year elsewhere in Connecticut. The entire time I was going through that process, a niggling detail kept perching on my shoulder and whispering to the back of my head... while I knew that aerial adventure courses are a great activity and a good business, I also kept coming back to the problem that I knew that what I was doing wasn't revolutionary. The business, while new in our area, was a model that has been well worn both elsewhere in the US and more significantly in Europe.
Further - how scalable a business was I creating? In the event that the first location did well - could I duplicate it elsewhere? If I wanted to bring it to urban areas or other areas of the country - would I be able to find suitable land both of terms of topography, forestation, and zoning? (Side note - have you even seen what 10 acres of forest land zoned commercial costs out on the open real estate market?)
The other issue is that the landscape of the aerial adventure business is changing. Corporate interest, partnerships and money is beginning to pour into these endeavors, and what has worked in the past (a person setting up a seasonal business in a quiet corner of the state) may not be a viable long-term business plan as we move into the future.
As I believe most people know, my first venture ran into legal issues with a few town residents attempting to overturn the P&Z board decision - a rather common occurrence with property development these days. Though common, it is also an occurrence that can eat up significant time. With extra time to burn and unanswered questions strung around my neck, I started to look into Plan "B". Was there a way to create a business that was scalable, transferable, and more accessible than the traditional outdoor model I was pursuing?
I think I've found it. More coming soon!
It's one of those questions I get asked repeatedly.
“What if I get stuck! What happens then?”
This question generally stumps people. I like to see what answers people already have in their head for this – folks with little to no training in ropes and repelling seem genuinely mystified by this problem.
If you’re keeping score, incorrect answers include:
“We keep sending food up there until you unstick yourself.”
All kidding aside, the answer doesn’t involve ladders, emergency personnel, or even all that much fuss. It also isn’t that big a deal if you hit a limit or an obstacle that just seems too daunting – it happens to everyone, and the fact that you’re out there trying is what’s important.
The answer is that one of our staff will slowly repel you to the ground using nothing more than the harness you’re already wearing, a climbing rope, and a piece of equipment called a friction multiplier.
A friction multiplier can be very simple – there is one version in the heading of this post called a Figure 8 (because it… looks like an 8…). When the rope is passed through in the configuration shown, it allows the guide (a GVA employee) who needs to get you to terra firma to control the rate at which you are dropping. If you follow the path of the rope through the picture, you can probably figure out how you could manipulate the friction to cause the rope to pass through the rings more slowly or more quickly – it’s as simple as moving your hands and changing the angle of entry and exit of the rope from the Figure 8. If you’re interested in more information in how this (and the many other similar types of devices work), check it out on youtube, but before you try it, visit your local rock climbing gym or other certified instructor for some hands-on training.
One the questions I get asked frequently is, "Don't people fall off?"
The answer is, "Yes... yes, they do! But then they just get right back on and try again!"
Every person on any element at any height is attached to the red safety line at all times. These safety lines have a very important function – they are the main system designed to keep our guests safe throughout their visit to the course. Because of their special nature, they are built differently than other event wires in the park. First off, their bright red color makes them stand out and stops guests from being confused as to which lines to clip into. The safety lines themselves are always independent from any other course elements. The connections are doubly redundant (more on this another time) and have a fail over in the case of connection failure. They are always placed above your head but within easy reach of the visitors (the "ease of reach" is why we have height restrictions on our courses!). In fact, events that are eligible to be visited by adults and children actually have 2 safety lines - one at a child's level and one for the adults that are sharing the course with them.
The red safety lines are connected to the harness that each guests wears while they are on the course. More about the safety line/harness connection next time... ¬¬
Have you noticed one of the 541 the purple boxes hanging from the trees throughout the state? They are traps to monitor the influx of the Emerald Ash Borer beetle in the state, and unfortunetly, they are starting to capture their prey.
The Connecticut DEEP announced the other day that the Emerald Ash Borer has arrived in Connecticut. This invasive insect has decimated ash trees to the south and west of this state, and is now poised, despite some of our best efforts, to do the same thing here. This is bigger than a business owner that relies on trees and trees health, this pests and ones like this are the first wave of a potential ecological disaster. I've seen first hand what pests like the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid have done in places like the Great Smokey Mountains, and we need to cut that off now, as soon as we can.
There is a home based zipline kit you can buy that has a note on top - it's the first thing you see when you open the box:
"Every zipline ends with a tree. Mind yours!"
That's good advice. I'd like to talk a little bit about the trees at the end of a zipline, or obstacle, or even your daughter's treehouse. The thing about a tree - any tree- that every builder has to remember is that a tree is not simply a large 10x10 plank or a telephone pole with bark on it. A tree is a living thing, and the safety of your structure is dependant on the tree remaining a living thing.
There are far too many "How-To" tree house books that attempt to explain the right way to built into a tree. And while the structures are viable, easy to construct and most likely safe, many of the designs I see completly fail to take into account the growth of the tree itself.
Remember elementray science - you can count how old a tree is by counting the rings inside it. Put another way, this means that trees add a new ring for every year of growth. So, that 4x4 beam you just nailed/lagged/bolted flush to trunk of the structure is going to retard the growth of the tree in the area of the board - where is the growth going to occur? A tree can compartamentalize and route around small damage, but if the damage is large enough you may very well end up with permanent damage to your main ground support.
I think this video shows what happens when tree based structures fail to take tree growth into account. I'm sure that when those eye bolts were added, the heads where on the outside of the limbs they were supposed to hold up (like in the picture on this post). See where they ended up in a few years time...