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Delivering grand canyon to the kids in the hood

One of the largest indoor rope parks in the world Summit Ropes is created by Walltopia and is located in Stirling, Virginia. However, the impressive number of 120 obstacles is far from being the only remarkable thing about this project.

Summit Ropes is not an ordinary children’s center. The idea for it came from Dan and Amy – successful salespeople in the IT branch who have four boys. When Amy was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and later with thyroid cancer, she took up climbing as a hobby and began to visit the mountainside frequently. Together with her family, she conquered some of the highest and most dangerous mountains in the country and also in the world. The family loves the time spent in nature, where they can walk, camp, ride a bike and climb. One of their favorite destinations is the red rocks carved by the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

While one of their sons has been diagnosed with autism, Dan and Amy realized how much more useful and stimulating such an environment has been for his development and children in general, compared to other types of entertainment. Unfortunately, traveling to such destinations is not possible to do too often, but both note that a similar positive effect is obtained when visiting a number of rope parks with obstacles throughout the country.

“Their physical skills and psychological attitude improve with each obstacle overcome, and in turn, performing these activities together unites us as a family. We would like to give this to more people in our community”, explained Dan and Amy. 

So they decided to make a children’s center, which not only offers the standard obstacles but also recreates as much as possible the mountain conditions, which they miss so much. By placing a piece of wildlife in the everyday environment of children in their community, the two hope to detach them from video games and the sedentary lifestyle.

“The goal was for this not to be a traditional entertainment center, but to get as close as possible to the environment of the Grand Canyon. The playground is divided into 2 parts, and some of the obstacles we have chosen are very similar to real places in nature and are even named after them with signs.” This is what Ivaylo Sotirov, executive director of Walltopia Adventure USA, says.

The foundations for future cooperation were laid in 2017 at the international conference of the Association for Challenge Course Technology where Walltopia competed with the largest European and American companies in the adventure industry, which all went to attract customers like Dan and Amy. However, they came across previous designs, concepts, and projects of Walltopia and considered that this is the company that will be able to create the natural look they are looking for.

The joint work on the design began in November of the same year, and the contract was signed in April 2018. The designers of “Walltopia” had 1,900 square meters to unfold their imagination. As a result, a total of 120 elements were included, about 50 of them were designed specifically for this project. This complements Walltopia’s portfolio, which offers the widest variety of obstacle courses for ropeways of all companies in the world – many times larger than that of competitors.

One of the key requirements that Dan and Amy had was that the playground offers entertainment for different age groups, which will allow whole families to share the experience together, and the young visitors to upgrade their skills over time.

Thus, the lowest level offers a rope playground for children up to 8 years old, the middle – for children aged 7-10 years, and the upper one is also suitable for adults.

The idea is for young visitors aged 5-6 to start with a children’s playground and over months and years to improve their skills and to try more complex levels. A unique feature of this project is a climbing wall, integrated into the ropes course – so you can jump from the ropes to the wall and then go back again. The climbing route is a reconstruction of the Via Ferrata (translated from Italian “Railway”) – a special type of climbing route originating from the Alps. It includes a system of metal ropes, rope bridges, stairs, and railings, which allows overcoming difficult terrain.

The obstacles are unique and most of them are in a form of red rocks, which creates a feeling that the visitors are climbing in the middle of the Grand Canyon. There are also signs along the routes indicating the names of the various stages, most of which are named after real places in the Canyon.

“The whole design is the result of a lot of conference calls – Dan and Amy took a key role in the whole process, but they also listened to our advice. They showed us photos of route trails that they have taken in the Grand Canyon – this can be seen in the metal elements, railings, and handrails we included, which are very similar to some of the routes there,” says Sotirov.

Once the design was successfully completed, the installation began in late December 2018 and ended in early January 2019. Thus, in less than 2 years, the project was built from scratch to finished form for it to become the largest indoor ropes course in the world with a capacity for over 210 visitors.

“I went through the whole field and even for me it was a challenge – and I am the person responsible for the development of this business here and, as you can imagine, I have been through more than one or two obstacle courses in my life.  There are easy elements that warm you up and that spike up your interest but at the same time there are much more difficult obstacles – imitations of rocks can definitely attract you and make you come back to improve your results,” says Sotirov.

These types of centers are regularly booked for birthdays and day trips for children, but the location, size, interior, and facilities of Summit Ropes are also prepossessing to special events. For example, because of its location right next to the headquarters of the US Secret services, the building is often used for corporate parties of the NSA, CIA, and FBI.

Among the regular customers, there are also luxury car brands, whose management organizes team buildings for their employees or uses the space for advertising campaigns for their products. For example, the huge space, resembling the Grand Canyon, serves as an advertising campaign for one of Bentley’s new SUV models.

However, sooner or later another contender appears for each title, and this indoor center with the largest ropes course is no exception. Only a year after the completion of this project, now Walltopia is building his successor, just about 650 miles away, in Worthington, Ohio. 

For the investor Greg Carlin, this will be the second adventure center. He initially contacted Walltopia for only a small rope and ninja playground. However, Walltopia’s employees took him to “Summit Ropes”, which he remained extremely impressed by. He raised the bet many times by ordering a huge ropes course, Fun Walls, boulder wall, two ninja courses, and twice as big the Via Ferrata. He was so passionate about the project that he soon came to Bulgaria with his two main associates and spent days discussing with designers, assessing the possibilities they could unfold on the impressive 4,600 sq.m. area. Thus, without this being foreseen at all, they built a project with 130 elements, laying the foundation for the new largest ropes course in the world.

The installation is about to be completed in a few weeks, but the grand opening has been postponed due to the situation caused by COVID-19. Many children will soon have the opportunity to be active and play sports every day, overcoming their fears and achieving more with each passing day.

“Their physical skills and psychological attitude improve with each obstacle overcome, and performing these activities together unites us as a family. We would like to give this opportunity to more people in our community.”

Dan Caseybian and Amy Stewart

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