One of the park’s unique new attractions has nothing to go with getting off the ground. Guided Segway tours have been offered since June 2014, with a fleet of 10 machines. Users take a 1.5- to 2-hour eco-tour around park grounds on a designated trail. Burroughs says there are hiccups—battery life of the machines, for example, or folks just not getting the hang of operating them. But for the most part, the tours have been a good option for people looking for a different activity.
Sometimes it’s the simple things that please customers most, and Hocking Hills Canopy has seen good success with rentals of helmet-mounted GoPro video cameras, a “hot-ticket item,” according to Burroughs. For $35 per day ($25 for SuperZip rides only), visitors rent the camera and are allowed to keep its 16GB card when finished. Some days the 10 cameras sell out, so more are being added. Burroughs says the marketing value is exponential, with social media sites ripe for video sharing.
In 2011, Hocking Hills Canopy Tours partnered with the Columbus Zoo to open another course, the Wild Zipline Safari, on leased land at The Wilds, a private, non-profit animal reserve on 10,000 acres of reclaimed mine land in Cumberland, Ohio, 83 miles northeast. Strip mining at The Wilds ceased in 1991, when it became a private partnership involving the Ohio Departments of Natural Resources and Development, the Columbus Zoo, and the private sector. The first species—wild horses—were released to pasture in 1992 and today a variety of species call The Wilds home, including buffalo, rhinos, and ostrich.
The Wild Zipline Safari is a fully guided 2.5-hour eco-tour with 11 zips and a rappel built on a series of observation platforms overlooking the grounds. With the opportunity to see an occasional free roaming endangered or rare animal, the activity provides what Burroughs calls “zip lining with a twist.”
Burroughs says tourism is a vital source of revenue not only for her business, but the state. She says the ROI in promoting tourism is 14 to 1. To help facilitate this, several of the company owners sit on tourism-related boards. Julieann sits on the Friends of the Hocking Hills, a non-profit Board dedicated to raising money for the Hocking Hills State Park. Jodi Burroughs sits on the Ohio Tourism Board, a state-level advisory board that helps to promote tourism throughout the state.
Hocking Hills Canopy is also staying on top of potential regulations, after the Ohio Department of Agriculture opened discussions on legislation for zip lines. To be proactive, the company teamed up with three other zip tour operators to form the Ohio Zip Line Association (OZLA). The group has been working closely with the state to identify where zip lines may or may not fit into their regulations.
“We’d rather be proactive versus reactive,” says Burroughs. “We want to help build those standards, and help the state understand what they don’t understand.”
The OZLA has worked with the state extensively in the past few years, even bringing in ACCT board members to meet with state officials. “We want everyone to be on the same page when it comes to regulations,” says Burroughs. “If we have standards in place and a new mom-and-pop operation decides to open, we want them to have a set of guidelines. We’re trying to be pioneers in the industry so that we’re working with, not against, the state.”