Regulations for zip lines and aerial adventure parks are coming into focus in more states around the country.
In Michigan, lawmakers are now regulating zip lines under the Michigan Carnival-Amusement Safety Act as a “carnival or amusement ride.” These new regulations will require zip line operators to obtain a permit and state inspection prior to operation. Operators must apply for a permit on or before March 1 of each year. They are also required to demonstrate proof of an insurance policy or a surety bond of at least $300,000, with a lesser amount for those with only one ride designed primarily for children.
“All owners or operators of zip lines in Michigan must apply for a permit, and each ride must be inspected by the state to protect the health, safety, and welfare of all riders,” said Corporations, Securities, & Commercial Licensing Bureau director Julia Dale. “Given the increasing prevalence of zip lines throughout the country and this state, we want to ensure that they are being properly operated and maintained.”
In North Carolina, a new bill filed in late February pushing to regulate zip lines and challenge courses has been met with bipartisan support. The “Sanders’ Law” is named for Bonnie Sanders Burney, the 12-year-old girl who died following a zip line incident at a camp in North Carolina.
The bill would give power to the commissioner of labor, who would delegate to the chief of the Elevator and Amusement Device Bureau, to oversee the state’s zip lines and challenge courses. The Bureau would hire third-party inspectors who would issue annual certificates of operation. Reporting of accidents, and a minimum age requirement for all operators, is also included in the bill.
In addition, it would allow companies to use standards developed by one of four agencies: ACCT, PRCA, ERCA, or ASTM International.•
ACCT Conference and Expo
The 27th International ACCT Conference & Exposition drew 1,138 participants to Savannah, Ga., Feb 2-5. The mood was upbeat, with well-attended seminars and workshops and a lively crowd in the exposition. Above, left: Mike Smith of Arbortrek visits with the team from ISC. Middle: Jim Wall of Challenge Design Innovations is visited by Sarah Ebbott and Olivia Rowan of Adventure Park Insider. Above, right: ACCT executive director Shawn Tierney presents Don Stock of The Adventure Guild with a “Wedgie” award.
New Park Openings
The aerial adventure industry is growing rapidly and new parks are springing up across the country.
Ropes Courses, Inc. received the green light for the installation of its premier product, a SkyTrail ropes course, as part of a bigger operation called Aerial Entertainment at the new Seascape Towne Center development in Miramar Beach, Fla.
“We wanted something that was affordable and engaging for families with kids. SkyTrail is a unique attraction that both tourists and locals will appreciate,” said Russ Scott, owner of Aerial Entertainment at Seascape.
The two-level SkyTrail Navigator will stand 32 feet tall and have a capacity of 35 participants. The installation is scheduled to open in May 2017.
Construction has begun on a new zip line in Lockport, N.Y. The zip line is the first to be permitted over a federal waterway. The attraction, developed by Thomas Callahan of Hydraulic Race Co., features two zip lines. The first, at 365 feet long, will send a rider east across the Erie Canal at a height of approximately 65 feet. The second line, zipping participants back across the canal, will be 590 feet long, but a bit lower at 35 feet above the water. The attraction has an anticipated opening date of June 2017.
ACCT Operator Accreditation: Back on Track
As adventure parks, zip lines, and challenge courses come under increasing scrutiny and regulation, and with a rising desire on the part of operators to assure their public of the reliability and professionalism of their facilities and staff, ACCT’s program accreditation initiative has been eagerly awaited by many. Those who were hoping to hear of the latest progress regarding the program during the ACCT conference, though, came away disappointed, as the organization did little to advance the project from the 2016 show. The reason: the organization was fully focused on improving its financial health, and program accreditation was placed on the back burner.
It’s likely the program will again receive the attention it deserves. New ACCT executive director Shawn Tierney addressed its status during a session at this year’s conference; he began the session by saying that the organization is moving deliberately (read: cautiously) and hopes the program will be a significant stamp of approval. And he predicted customers will look for it.
However, he warned the audience that there’s no timetable for a finished product. ACCT is still inviting feedback on the proposal, and “that will slow down the process,” Tierney said. “But we will do it right.”
“This is a rapidly evolving industry. It’s a moving target. That makes accreditation a moving target, too,” he added. He observed that whatever program eventually launches, it will also be subject to evolution as the industry evolves.
The intent remains the same as ever: to elevate professionalism and quality in the aerial adventure industry, to give the public a measure of confidence in accredited operations, and create a platform that meets regulatory requirements.
Tierney also pointed to other benefits, among them:
• the opportunity to gather information on incidents across the industry
• the chance to lower insurance rates for accredited operators
While accreditation won’t eliminate guest incidents, it’s likely to reduce them, Tierney added.
The current draft for program accreditation lays out several minimum requirements. These include:
• being in business for at least one year
• appropriate insurance
• legal agreements (waivers, due diligence)
• technical course inspection, similar to existing annual inspections
• employee training and certification
• operational review
Those requirements are not onerous. “If you are meeting ACCT standards, you are most of the way there,” Tierney said. But he noted that few operators meet all elements of the standards, which require documentation of inspections, training, and other aspects of operations. “Many operators don’t fail to meet standards because they run bad programs, they simply lack documentation. Documentation is key,” Tierney emphasized.
Among the unanswered questions about accreditation: How will owners with multiple sites be accredited? Just what will training and accreditation involve, and how will the trainers themselves be accredited?
Another big question: how comprehensive should accreditation be? One option would be a relatively simple, paperwork-based program that would be fairly easy for operators to complete. Another option would be more involved, requiring site inspections and more. The advantage, though, is that such accreditation would gain greater respect and weight.
Cost is an issue, of course. A simple paperwork-based program might cost as little as $500 to $1000. A more in-depth site-visit program could run $2000 to $3000—plus travel expenses for the individuals who accredit an operation. The site visit might take place every three to five years, with less-expensive annual paperwork updates.
“Don’t simply look at the cost of accreditation; ask yourself what you will gain,” Tierney urged. “Reputation, insurance—these make the investment worthwhile.”
Almost all of the two-dozen operators at the session seemed to agree; a show of hands strongly favored the more in-depth route. Two smaller experiential operators favored a simpler, less costly path.
Regardless of which path ACCT takes, there are several steps that remain, including:
• creating a pathway for trainer/testers and operational reviewers to become qualified
• establishing a “road map” of benefits and fees
• vetting the program internally
• conducting a pilot program to establish procedures, gather feedback, discover blind spots, etc.
• launching marketing and PR efforts
Watch for more information from ACCT as work on accreditation resumes this year.