Guilford County and Forsyth County, with the help of Wake Forest University, are bringing back to life an unusual attraction at Triad Park – a ropes course, sometimes known as a “challenge course,” in which participants navigate a series of obstacles high up in the sky, often as part of a corporate team-building exercise or a youth group trust enhancement program.
Some county officials such as Guilford County Commissioner Ray Trapp are concerned about liability issues, but one county official said that the course is safe because is has safety lines that keep participants from falling.
“They won’t plummet to their death,” he said, adding a request not to attribute his name to that quote.
Wake Forest is paying each county $37 a month for three years in order to use the course and run it, but officials in both counties say it’s not the tiny amount of revenue that’s the reason to do it – instead it’s the fact that the service will be available as opposed to simply having an expensive nice ropes course sitting there useless.
The course was built at Triad Park six years ago on land leased to a nonprofit ropes group called Great Heights. However, the course became too costly to maintain and that group folded.
Now the two counties are bringing the attraction back at Triad Park, a 460-acre swathe of land along the border of the two counties. That park is jointly owned and run by the two counties.
Michael Anderson, the director of the Forsyth County Parks and Recreation, said this week that the ropes course built at the park cost $120,000 at the time it was constructed and that its current replacement value is about $170,000. He said it’s a nice asset and it would be a shame for the two counties to let it go to waste.
Anderson said his county has been trying to find someone to operate the course since April 2015, after Great Heights went under.
“They ended up folding – they couldn’t make a go of it,” Anderson said.
Because of the nature of the lease, the ownership of the course fell to the two counties. The ropes course, which occupies 2.6 acres at the park, was built with money from private donors as well as grant money.
Anderson said there are a few ropes courses in the area that do a good business, such as those at the Greensboro Science Center and at Kersey Valley Attractions, but he added that most successful courses, like those two, are operated in conjunction with other activities. The course at Triad Park was a stand-alone enterprise and that turned out to hinder its success.
That failure was bad for Great Heights, but the two counties got a free ropes course. Anderson said park officials didn’t want to tear it down, but added it was hard finding someone to take it over.
“It’s a real specialized thing,” Anderson said. “They need special certification and it is a very complex thing to run. We could never find anyone.”
Finally, Forsyth County officials approached Wake Forest University, which did agree to take on the job even though it was an unusual proposition for the educational institution.
“They’re not in the business of running a ropes course,” Anderson said.
The university will use it for campus programs, lease it out to groups and companies and handle much of the upkeep and repair.
The fee in the three-year lease is nominal, Anderson said, but that’s not the point.
“If we didn’t do this then we would have to tear it down, which would have been a waste,” he said.
Trapp was the only Guilford County commissioner who voted against the move.
“I’m not approving these things where staff can’t answer our questions satisfactorily,” Trapp said later.
The Guilford County Board of Commissioners approved the action at their Thursday, Oct. 20 meeting. The Forsyth County commissioners had already approved it.
Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing told the commissioners, concerning Wake Forest, “They are willing to acquire all the necessary insurance that would be expected in the required agreements.”
He also said there is no lighting at the site so it has to be operated in daylight hours. Lawing said the exact schedule of operation would be known at a later date.
The course will be made available free to citizens for at least one day a year.
Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne wrote in an email, when asked about the new arrangement, that he was satisfied regarding liability issues for the county.
“We require the lessee to provide a $2 million minimum insurance policy; we also require instructors, equipment and facilities to maintain certification from the organization establishing safety standards for the industry,” he wrote. “If done right it really should not be a liability issue and if not they cannot operate under the lease terms. It will be monitored more frequently than industry certification standards require as a minimum.”
Anderson said he had been very pleased with Guilford County’s approval of the move and he added that his county really enjoys working with Guilford County when it comes to all aspects of Triad Park.
“Guilford County and Forsyth County went into it together and it’s really been a great partnership,” he said.