Hitting Pay Dirt: The Rise of Dirt Based Attractions

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Dig This

A man in a hard hat gestures and I begin pulling levers, pushing buttons and squealing with delight. Dig This is Las Vegas’ heavy equipment playground and I’m at the helm of an excavator. Guests at the attraction receive a breathalyzer (it’s Vegas, after all!), a safety briefing, an in-cab orientation and then it’s off to the races, literally. Diggers get to operate the equipment, dig holes, lift up tires and scoot around a construction zone. If an excavator isn’t your thing, you also have the option of pushing around dirt with a bulldozer. For people who have never had the chance to operate heavy machinery, this adult-oriented outdoor excavation attraction is a serious thrill.

Dirt based entertainment: it’s been a favorite with kids for millennia. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as playing outside, building sandcastles, digging holes, and splashing in the mud. Dig This was one of the first structured attractions to pick up on this and offer an experience catering to adults. Today, there are a number of other “hard hat adventure” parks in less visible parts of the country.

Diggerland USA excavators

A new development is taking the concept of operating heavy machinery and making it accessible to kids. Diggerland USA has opened its first adventure park in the US. There are already four locations of the franchise in the UK. The US park is operated by the owners of Sahara Sam’s Oasis water park in New Jersey. The focus of the construction-based theme park is to allow kids to operate large equipment and enjoy themed thrill rides.

The park features twenty-three different attractions. Many of them are large pieces of equipment that have been modified to be either stationary or drive on a designated course. Significant modifications and oversight are provided in order to ensure the safety of both children and adult visitors. Diggerland has taken the core concept of the parks in the UK and innovated on it to provide a unique spin.

Spin Dizzy - Diggerland USA

In addition to the excavators, the park offers a number of other attractions. Spin Dizzy is a modified JCB excavator that has been repurposed as a thrill ride. Eight people can be strapped into a modified bucket and go up and down at the end of the spinning boom. There are many other things on offer including a huge ropes course, a military adventure ride, swamp buggies, trains, rock climbing, and more. Their latest rides incorporate Workmax Trucks, also known as UTVs, which kids and parents alike can drive around a designated course.

Kids are fascinated by watching and replicating what the adults around them do. Consider the recent viral image sensation of the little boy rendered awestruck when he met his heroes, the neighborhood trash removal team. Kidzania, a global brand, has built their attractions around the concept of creating spaces where kids can experiment with performing adults’ jobs. Similarly concepts like Diggerland tap into that sense of wonder, but allow kids to actually operate the big machines they’re excited about.

Stepping back, it’s interesting to consider the popularity of dirt-based attractions from a design and cultural perspective. There’s a pop culture trend that builds on our collective fascination with these types of experiences. Shows like Dirty Jobs, Gold Rush Alaska, and others profile people working hard and using big equipment. Studies show that the audiences of these popular TV shows are diverse. In many cases, it’s blue collar workers interested to see their own field or related fields being profiled on television. In others, it’s creatives or stifled office workers imagining getting outdoors and looking for a kind of fantasy-fueled escapism.

Diggerland Ground Shuttle

There are major barriers to opening and operating these types of theme parks: safety regulations are chief among them. Staff needs exacting training on operation, oversight, and safety standards. Rides are scrutinized, and often have to be modified. Regulatory boards aren’t used to approving these types of park, so there may be additional administrative and engineering related hoops to jump through to convince them everything is up to code – both initially and on an ongoing basis.

But for park operators and entertainment designers who have taken the leap, it seems to be worth the investment. Attractions in the space are thriving. What’s next, and where are the opportunities? One potential area is combining different elements of operating heavy machinery and digging in the dirty with an overarching storyline. For example, could there be a market for roleplaying based adventures targeting older guests that let them “mine for gold in the Yukon?” Only time will tell, but one thing is clear. Audiences are digging dirt-based attractions and we’re excited to see where this burgeoning category goes in the future.

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