Allie Kinniard zips across the pond at Valley Zip Line Tours.

Valley Zip Line Tours: Ecotourism is big business

By Mike Ryan, OCJ field reporter

On the northern edge of southeastern Ohio’s famed Hocking Hills lies Valley Zip Line Tours owned by Mark Kinniard, and his sons, Chad and Josh. After leaving an old country road featuring century old barns and beef farms, visitors to the 53-acre property enter a valley dotted with ponds and surrounded by hardwood forests and 60-foot rock formations that are criss-crossed with zip lining cables for adventurers to whisk by 100 feet overhead.

Valley Zip Line Tours, which first opened in 2012, takes economic advantage of the family’s rural landholdings by providing fun recreational opportunities for excitement-seeking patrons.

“When we first purchased this property, we were interested in finding ways to make a profit from it. The question was ‘How can we best use the land and maximize profits?’ My dad, Mark, has always been very creative and has always worked in business for himself. He is an entrepreneur and a self-made guy with good business instinct and a work ethic like you would not believe,” Chad said.

For several years, the property was used as a pay lake fishing destination known as Catfish Valley, but the zip line operation opened up a new and more attractive business prospect for the Kinniards.

“The zip gave us a better opportunity to utilize the land,” Chad said. “With the cliffs and rock formations on either side of the valley here, our visitors can zip from one side to the other over what used to be the fishing ponds that lay smack in the middle of our property.”

Both the zip line and pay lake were run together for a year, but then decisions had to be made.

“Operating two seasonal businesses was too much. We were burning the candle at both ends,” Josh said. “The zip line allowed us a good exit strategy to get out of the pay lake industry. We were able to transition out of fishing and have a potentially profitable new business that freed up evenings and eliminated some maintenance and upkeep hassles associated with pay laking.”

The property has a total of 11 zip lines that run through the trees, over a deep hollow, and across the ponds, while affording views of the surrounding countryside.

“We offer customers a little bit of physical activity and little bit of fitness and well-being, while giving them the chance to appreciate the scenic serenity of the Hocking Hills,” Josh said.

The zip course has a total of 7,000 feet of half-inch galvanized steel cable from which harnessed travelers are whisked from tree-to-tree, tower-to-tower, and cliff side-to-cliff side. The longest zips are between 650 feet and 1,300 feet in distance and zip liners can reach speeds of 45 to 50 miles per hour while buzzing more than 100 feet over the valley floor. A full tour of all 11 zip lines takes participants approximately two hours and all parties are accompanied by knowledgeable and personable guides who are trained in first aid and high ropes rescue.

Once customers are finished with their zip line tour, they can purchase souvenirs from the clubhouse/office such as t-shirts, can koozies, and/or individual photos or a flash drive containing pictures of their group taken by the staff over the course of their zip line adventure.

Chad, Mark, and Josh Kinniard work together to run Valley Zip Line Tours.

The Valley Zip Line Tours business is taking advantage of the interest in ecotourism and current urban/suburban recreational trends.

“For people looking for a nature adventure, zip lining is a fun way to explore the outdoors with a little thrill and adrenaline rush,” Chad said. “Visitors get to see the woods from a new perspective. Being up in the trees gives a new dimension to the landscape, and that is what people come for.”

Valley Zip Line’s customers include family vacationers coming to the Hocking Hills region, adventure seekers and adrenaline junkies young and old.

“The number of people who visit from Columbus and Cleveland is huge. We get a lot of people from urban centers looking for a country retreat and the flat-landers who come down from Toledo and Cleveland love the different topography. They always say ‘It’s so flat up where we live!’ We have people from all over the world come here — we have had folks here from Kazakhstan, Israel, New Zealand, Uzbekistan, Australia, Mexico, France,” the Chad said, looking over the world map at the office, where visitors are encouraged to mark their hometown with a pin after a day of zip lining.

Large groups are always welcome and Valley Zip Line Tours always offers group rates and promotions.

“We cater to a lot of large groups. We host Boy and Girl Scout troops, bachelor and bachelorette parties, class reunions, and provide a venue for different corporate and community organization team-building events. The local hospital once brought in 100 people and food trucks for an all-day event and local high schools will bring in teacher and coach groups. We can accommodate approximately 150 customers a day,” Josh said. “The biggest group that we have had was a 130 kid summer camp outing.”

Business has been good for Valley Zip Line Tours, as it continues to grow and expand its customer base.

“We grow every year. We are more efficient and are fine-tuning the business as we come into our seventh season with the zip line,” Chad said. “We have a small full time crew of six guys, and seasonally, we have approximately 20 part-time workers who we call in depending on demand. Dave Myers is a manager of the company and has been a lynch pin and integral part of this operation since the onset of Catfish Valley.”

The zip lining season runs from March through November, and it is a busy one.

“Weekends are busy throughout the entire season. Even early in the year, when it is cold and grey, we will still have good numbers. We get a little surge in late March or April at Spring Break, but from the time when school lets out until school goes back in session is our prime time season — 70% of our business comes from June, July, and August. October is also a really big month for us, with the foliage change. It is a huge time for us—this is the time when the property probably looks its best—it is beautiful here all of the time, but the fall color season is a special time,” Josh said.

Promoting safety and providing attentive customer service is one of the biggest challenges for the business.

“Every tour is different. No tour takes the same amount of time because you are working with different people, different ages, and different body types, so different accommodations are needed. Trying to keep everyone happy can be a bit of a task. We want to give the customer the best personalized experience possible while being as safe as possible,” Josh said. “Explaining that safety is and has to be more important than fun is one challenge. If someone is doing something that could be a safety risk to themselves or the guides because they think it is funny, cute, or ‘brave,’ or are acting ignorant to a situation, it can be a problem. We want to be family friendly, so if you get some guy or some group cussing or acting out on a tour with families, that is also a problem.”

Being a family business offers its challenges, as well.

“It can be a challenge working with my dad in a dynamic business. We have our arguments; we are all Type-A personalities. But I would not want it any other way. My dad is my best friend even though we may bicker,” Chad said.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Josh said. “But the upside outweighs the downside 10-fold, and not just from a monetary standpoint. I am also a public school teacher, and as a teacher, I deal with people who don’t always want to be there. At the zip line, you do not run across many people that don’t want to be here, and that makes it enjoyable. The joy, fun, and happiness of customers make it worth it.”

Valley Zip Line Tours utilizes a variety of social media outlets to reach out to customers such as Facebook and Instagram and they also advertise in Hocking Hills tourism guides. Contact information can be found and reservations can be made on their website, valleyziplinetours.com, and they can also be contacted directly at 740-654-3392.

Check Also

Second Session highlights

Attendees heard a great keynote, celebrated 2021 national winners and announced the first round of …

One comment

  1. I really liked what you said about how zip lining is a good option for people looking for an outdoor adventure. My husband and I are planning a camping trip next year and I want to add some interesting activities for us and our children. Thank you for the information about how ziplining will allow us to see the trees in a new light and dimension.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.