Products designed and made by Ropes Courses Inc. are installed in amusement parks, camps and resorts around the world. Courtesy Ropes Courses Inc.
Chances are if you’ve been on a ropes course somewhere in the world it was made in Michigan.
Ropes Courses Inc., located in Allegan, has been providing ropes courses and zip lines to amusement and theme parks, camps, educational institutions, cruise lines, resorts and several other industries since 1989.
The company has sold more than 600 rope courses since its founding and estimates it has put more than 10 million people in the air.
Jim Liggett launched Ropes Courses after experiencing his first ropes course in the early 1980s.
“In 1982, I went on a ropes course in Kalamazoo,” Liggett said. “I had never been in the air like that — 35 feet in the air, in the trees. I was afraid, but after I got over my fear, I felt like it was awesome.”
Liggett said he wanted to share that feeling with others, which is what prompted him to get into ropes course design and manufacturing.
One of the biggest challenges when Liggett founded his company was that ropes course users were required to clip and unclip as part of the process, which meant there needed to be a greater degree of supervision to ensure safety.
“We developed a patented system for safety so you couldn’t unclip from the time you left the ground until the time you got back on the ground,” Liggett said.
That improvement helped the company grow dramatically because it opened up new markets.
“That is when sales really started to take off,” he said. “We started selling to amusement parks and places that would put a lot of people through.”
Liggett said prior to the safety system his company developed, summer camps and colleges and universities were the primary purchasers of ropes courses, which used them for group activities, like team building.
The company also began manufacturing its ropes courses using steel instead of the cable systems and utility poles from which they typically were made. Ropes Courses works with local steel suppliers to produce its products.
Liggett said one of the company’s first breakthroughs was selling a course to Stone Mountain Park in Georgia, which runs between 2,500 to 3,000 people through its course daily.
The company that runs Stone Mountain Park also runs the Dollywood theme park in Tennessee, and five years later it installed a ropes course there that sees nearly 6,000 users daily.
Liggett said currently there are at least 300 Ropes Courses products in use across the globe.
The company has grown from when Liggett and a couple of friends worked out of a garage to more than 80 employees now working in facilities that total 200,000 square feet of space.
Liggett said his company also manages six ropes courses around the country. Its seventh course will open later this year in Connecticut and will be the largest indoor ropes course in the world.
Liggett said he’s seen the ropes course industry change a lot in the past three decades.
First and foremost, he said the courses are much more accessible to the public than when he started his venture. Today, ropes courses are a must for family entertainment centers, and Liggett said local parks and recreation departments are starting to lease park space to ropes course operators.
He also said the tree market is coming back.
“The tree market is coming back because of the cable tracks that allow you to go from tree to tree without unclipping,” he said.
“I think the industry is growing in leaps and bounds,” Liggett said. “Years ago, I built one of the first ropes courses in Germany that was open to the public, and now there are thousands of them over there.”
In addition to the United States, Liggett said he sees a lot of business coming from the United Arab Emirates, the Middle East and China. The company is finishing a ropes course for Disney in Shanghai right now, which will be the largest outdoor ropes course in the world when it opens.
Liggett said his company has been a leader in the industry, thanks to its innovations and its willingness to pursue nontraditional markets for its products. He hopes to continue that leadership as the industry grows.
“Hopefully, we will be the leaders,” he said.