Forecasting Other Hazards
Though lightning seems the most obvious, other potential weather-related dangers are also closely monitored.
Batten of Treetop Trek says heat is his second-biggest concern. “People arrive dehydrated, which is a problem that grows when they get on the courses,” he says. “They may have spent all day at the beach the day before and are now attempting physically demanding activities. Or they come from somewhere that is predominantly cooler and are affected by Florida’s heat and humidity.”
Though the park has never had to shut down operations because of high heat, the number of guests that need medical attention as a direct result sees a roughly 75 percent spike through the summer months, when temperatures reach the 80s and 90s. Staff is trained to recognize and treat heat cramps and heat exhaustion, and oral rehydration solution is kept on hand, along with instant cold packs.
Treetop Trek has added Gatorade stops on the ropes course in addition to water. “People not only suffer from dehydration but also hypoglycemia, so we aim to get people’s electrolytes back to normal,” says Batten.
On the other end of the spectrum, Flagstaff Extreme, which sits at 7,000 feet, can get too cold to keep running. The park won’t necessarily stop operating when it gets below the freezing mark, says Kent, but if the temp is below 25 degrees at the booked start time, it will suspend operations. The park offers hand warmers for rent or sale, and the staff watches for hypothermia and looks out for people who may be underdressed.
High wind is another potential hazard common throughout the country. Batten utilizes the National Weather Service for updated wind advisories. When the wind is sustained at 20 mph, or gusting at 25 mph, 11 of Treetop Trek’s 13 zip lines (all but the lowest) are closed, and in severe cases the entire park can be shut down. An on-site wind gauge is used for very localized readings, which can be checked by his staff.
Recognizing the Less Obvious
Paul Cummings, president of consulting service Strategic Adventures, reminds operators to stay aware of less obvious, though still important, weather-related issues—low visibility, for example.
“Visibility in itself can become an issue,” he says. “Some parks still use the traditional carabiner system for ropes courses or other attractions, and heavy rain, fog, or snow can cut down on visibility. You should always be able to see the person you are roped to.”
Sometimes simply getting to the attraction can be the hazard, adds Cummings. Many parks use wooden logs as steps, or other wooden areas to walk on, which can become instant slip hazards when wet from fog or rain. Cummings himself recently took a good fall from a slippery log and has heard reports of similar incidents. A slippery surface can be easily mitigated with the addition of some high-grit sandpaper or other high-traction material.
Missy Conner, director of operations for Outdoor Ventures Group, which operates nine parks in varying climates, from Virginia Beach to Whitefish, Mont., bases her safety strategy on what factors are present. “A coastal location with more salt in the air may affect the rate of deterioration of the wires, and therefore is monitored more often,” says Conner. “Locations with extremely low temperatures or extended periods of freezing require closer monitoring of any permanent outdoor structures or equipment.”
Conner recommends assessing a park for repairs after extreme weather—especially high winds or ice. “Following any such event, the trees [should be]closely inspected, along with the structures and the courses, to check for any fallen limbs, branches, or tree damage that could directly or indirectly impact the structures,” she says.
As adventure park operations continue to grow in all areas of the country—mountainous, arid, coastal, or otherwise—the interface between Mother Nature and humans will always remain a concern for guest safety, one that can be abated with proper preparation.