API Summer 2021


the canopy tour or aerial park experi- ence with a falconry lesson from Ohio School of Falconry experts. Free nature hikes: Guided by local naturalists affiliated with the city park system, ZipZone’s trails are open to pa- trons of all ages, giving them a window into the natural world hidden within the city. Interpretive programming: While many tours provide some interpretation of the surrounding environment, ZipZone again leverages its partnerships with lo- cal naturalists to train guides in provid- ing a quality interpretive experience. French Broad Adventures in North Carolina also leverages relationships with experts to help add to the guest experience. “We do monthly continu- ing education trainings with our zip tour staff,” says owner/operator Korey Hampton. “Western North Carolina is incredibly bio-diverse, so we bring in a local arborist periodically to help educate staff on the trees and plants found on the tour, giving them the tools to educate the guests on the ecosystem of the Blue Ridge Mountains.” That arborist was the one who consult- ed when the tour was originally being laid out and designed, so these train- ings help keep and further that connec- tion with him. Local history is another topic that can help connect guests with their sur- roundings. “Local history is great to share with the guests—small tidbits that they can share with someone else over a meal can be easier to connect to than, say, the evolution of a tree or forest,” says Michael Smith, owner of ArborTrek Canopy Adventures in Vermont. “There’s a lot of misconceptions of and interest in our local history here in Smugglers’ Notch [Vt.],” says Smith. So, he connected ArborTrek with the local historical societies and has them come on site to share their knowledge. Staff with a keen interest have created hand-

books for guides to reference. “We’ve also tapped into the local universities,” says Smith. “Many interns need an eco- logical or historical project to complete a degree.”

Sometimes, changing an approach or perception can do wonders by itself. Ap- proach your aerial adventure elements as tools that can be used for more than just a good time, and more opportu- nities will present themselves. A few things to reflect on and act upon: Guides as educators. Teach your guides to think of themselves as educa- tors—because they are. They’re already teaching people how to fit and use equipment, navigate elements, and fly through the trees. Expand their scope and expand your offerings. What do guests want? Connect with your guests and learn what would bring them back. Ask them what they’d like to see, do, and learn. What do their families want from an educational experience? Partner with experts. You’ve been working with them already in the cre- ation of your course. Ask your arborist about the forest. Ask your staff about their interests. Ask your neighboring businesses about what they’re doing. Opportunities are all around you. Outdoor education isn’t just about the forest. Though the natural world is a key part of our experiences, there are many other ways to educate and serve our communities using your aerial adventure course. “Connecting our staff and guests to history, lore, and stories unique to the course and community has been a huge success in driving interest, additional sales, and repeat business,” says Smith. “It’s expanded the interest of our guests outside of just the elements, and it’s helped connect us to the community around us.”


Since the opening of the first Outward Bound challenge course, aerial ad- venture structures have been used in education, serving as unique tools that can drive a variety of outcomes, such as teaching empathy and self-discov- ery. The original “canopy tour” concept stems from Dr. Donald Perry’s tree-top ropeways in the rain forest, used for nature observation and research. At the first Project Adventure program in Massachusetts, curriculum was aimed at developing problem solving and collaboration skills. Whether it’s climbing a rock face or a challenge course, there are few outdoor education programs that don’t include some aerial adventure activities. “At the YMCA, we use these structures in multiple capacities. From the mo- ment they see the high elements, it’s the thing every student looks forward to the most,” says Richard Krudner of the YMCA of San Diego County. “Putting students on high elements is one more ‘first’ that parallels the other ‘first experiences’ we provide at outdoor ed- ucation programs. Especially for youth from traditionally underserved com- munities, it’s a peak experience without comparison.” More than experiential. As Pingle, Hampton, and Smith demonstrate, using aerial adventure activities for learning is not exclusive to the educa- tional sector of the industry, despite often being viewed that way. Commer- cial guides and operators are constantly educating their patrons—whether it’s coaching them into harnesses, teach- ing them how to use their lanyards, or sharing something about the landscape they’re flying over.

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