06 Mar A Towering Accomplishment
Sometimes, trees are not required for a successful aerial park. Take Franklin, Tennessee-based SOAR Adventure Tower, which opened last August. SOAR’s 110 elements are housed entirely within a 10,000 square foot structure built out of galvanized steel. At 50 feet tall, it offers four levels of self-contained play for all ages and abilities.
The SOAR Adventure Tower is a modular unit made by KristallTurm. It’s KristallTurm’s first “full” U.S.-based tower, according to Kevin Vanderkolk, who owns and operates the park as a family business along with his wife Colleen, and brothers-in-law Bill and Eric Barth.
None of SOAR’s owners had prior experience with aerial parks or the outdoor industry. In fact, Kevin is a professional gymnast who most recently spent 15 years as the mascot “Bango” for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. The role required about 400 community appearances a year in addition to traveling the world as part of an acrobatic stunt team. Loving his job, but tired of the grueling schedule, Vanderkolk decided to look for something new.
“When I decided to retire, I wanted to do something that was fun for my family and kids,” says Vanderkolk. “I started looking at family entertainment centers and thought I’d go into the trampoline park industry. Then I realized there’s already a tramp park on every corner. More importantly, it’s not as engaging for parents.”
The family-activity component was vital for Vanderkolk. A family man himself—he and Colleen have five kids—he recognized that many families like theirs want options to recreate together.
When Vanderkolk headed to the IAAPA expo in 2014 looking for something engaging, he came across KristallTurm’s product and “fell in love with it.”
“The product caters to a large demographic. It physically challenges me as a thrill seeker, but I can also bring my ten-year-old and have just as much fun,” says Vanderkolk. “A lot of courses aren’t like that. This product allowed the entire family to come and enjoy the park together.”
After touring three KristallTurm parks in Germany, Vanderkolk returned, found a 7.5-acre property in Tennessee for the park, moved his family from Wisconsin, and moved forward. SOAR celebrated its grand opening on August 15.
As was the goal, the Tower can be enjoyed by folks of all abilities starting at age 3 with the easiest of the 110 total elements located on the ground level. A center platform serves as de facto hub for the structure, and a staircase that ascends through the middle can access all levels. Vanderkolk says the beauty of the course is that there isn’t a beginning or end—guests can pick and choose elements and create their own adventure, flitting from one floor to the next if they want.
The ground level is geared specifically towards kids ages 3 to 7, while the upper three floors each offer a variety of difficulty for the older crowd, with about 30 elements per level. “You can be on level one and do something very physically challenging or something simple,” says Vanderkolk. At the beginning of each is a color-coded tweezle that indicates level of difficulty.
Approximately 20 features on the kids’ level mimic those found on the adult courses, they’re just lower to the ground at 1 to 5 feet high. Kids move along on a trolley to access appropriately sized suspension bridges, ropes, a horizontal rock wall, teeter boards, tires, balance beams, and more. Parents can walk alongside them to observe or assist.
“It’s still very physical,” says Vanderkolk. “Some kids will go through ten or fifteen times and have a blast.”
The upper levels offer a variety of aerial park staples with a few unexpected twists. Rock climbing walls, cargo nets, a 30-foot-high slack line, and a bike that riders take across a four-inch beam are just a few of the highlights. Thanks to KristellTurm, one suspended climbing element is an actual German “beer fest” picnic table that hangs 30 feet above ground.
Because of its location 17 miles from Nashville, SOAR’s owners wanted to incorporate a music theme throughout the space. They worked with KristallTurm to customize elements from its catalog to create about 15 “Music City”-inspired obstacles. A piano bridge is painted to resemble piano keys, visitors scale guitars that hang from ropes 10 feet off the ground, and there are climbing ropes with vinyl records at the base. As a shout-out to country music, one element incorporates a saddle. And there’s an actual drum kit, which guests can play, that sits on a 15-foot platform. (“Sometimes, we take the sticks away,” says Vanderkolk.)
At the top of the tower sits an event platform with a closed observation deck. Vanderkolk says visitors can use it as a meeting space, either in conjunction with a teambuilding event or just to take a break while climbing. Water is available on the deck at all times.
The park has hosted corporate outings, though its primary business so far has been local residents and families. In addition to the single day $45 Adult Adventure Pass, the $40 Youth Adventure Pass, and the $35 pass for kids ages 3 to 7, SOAR offers an annual pass that allows a year of $25 climbs after paying an initial $75 fee, which has been a popular product.
In keeping with the music theme, SOAR is planning a summer concert series with one live show a month from May through October. These concerts will be unique because the bands are going to play on the actual tower, with band members harnessed in and their equipment strapped down, says Vanderkolk. People will still be able to climb during the performances.
Keep it Simple
SOAR truly has made a mountain out of a molehill. Its Keep-It-Simple-Stupid policy means that its steel structure and foliage-free grounds are low maintenance. And the park follows KristallTurm’s recommendations of one staff member per every 30 visitors, which means that, while operating at 120 visitors max, only four to five guides are needed when the tower is full. Vanderkolk says with point-of-sale and equipment staff, SOAR only needs a maximum of seven or eight people working at any given time.
It’s been successful so far, though Vanderkolk says they may decide to expand at some point. But for now, at least, the park will stay focused on the basics: music and family and fun.
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