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'Dig This' Offers New Kind Of Sandbox Experience

A Caterpillar Excavator at Dig This, a playground for adults that allows them to drive and operate construction equipment.
Courtesy of Dig This
A Caterpillar Excavator at Dig This, a playground for adults that allows them to drive and operate construction equipment.

Las Vegas just opened up a new playground, but it's not for children.

It's called Dig This, and it claims to be the first heavy-equipment playground — as in construction equipment.

Before riding, participants attend a safety and equipment orientation. The park is also staffed with instructors like Phil Chavez, a former construction worker. Chavez can communicate with riders over a wireless headset, and just to be extra safe, he has a kill switch in case a machine gets out of control.

Employees take no chances at Dig This, which is a good thing — owner Ed Mumm says he has more than $1 million invested here.

"Y'know, my original business model was to go with just smaller equipment," Mumm says."And that certainly would've reduced the cost for the experience, but man, Americans love big stuff."

Mumm, who is originally from New Zealand, got the idea when a friend taught him how to operate an excavator he had leased for work at his home in Steamboat Springs, Colo.

"After being on that machine, I thought, 'Wow, this is so much fun,' and then it occurred to me, 'Well, if I'm having so much fun, imagine the amount of people that don't get the opportunity to do this sort of thing.' And from there, Dig This was born," he says.

After a couple of years in Steamboat Springs, he moved to Las Vegas, where he said there were more potential customers.

He hasn't turned a profit yet, but his timing is good. A decade ago, leasing 5 acres so close to the Strip would've cost a fortune. But things now are so bad in the construction and real estate business, Mumm says, that the landowners are delighted anyone will pay to use it.

"People are looking for anything," he says.

Dig This charges between $200 and $750. This may seem pricey, but many people in Vegas spend that for dinner, gambling or to fly over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter.

Mumm says a good majority of customers are guys who have "operate heavy equipment" on their bucket lists.

But he says he has been surprised at how many women are also interested, which is the reason Dig This offers a package called "Excavate and Exfoliate," a half-day at the park followed by a spa treatment at the Trump Las Vegas Hotel.

While I was at the park I got to dig a trench, use the bucket to pick up basketballs, and build a pyramid with tires — those last two are obviously not standard construction tasks.

As with video games, the key is to not overthink.

Given all the people out there who have wanted to do this since they were kids, it's easy to wonder why no one thought of it before.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As supervising editor for Arts and Culture at NPR based at NPR West in Culver City, Ted Robbins plans coverage across NPR shows and online, focusing on TV at a time when there's never been so much content. He thinks "arts and culture" encompasses a lot of human creativity — from traditional museum offerings to popular culture, and out-of-the-way people and events.