TUPPER LAKE, N.Y. (AP) — While most boardwalks skirt beaches or traverse bogs and marshlands, a new wooden walkway in the Adirondacks takes nature lovers on a tour of the treetops to let them experience the forest from the perspective of the birds and beasts that live there.
The just-opened $5.5 million Wild Walk is set on 80 wooded acres at the Wild Center, an interactive natural history museum beside a twisty oxbow of the Raquette River in Tupper Lake, 115 miles north of Albany. Supported by tall, teepee-like clusters of poles whose pointed shape reflects the surrounding pine forest, the elevated trail has a series of winding bridges and platforms suspended 40 feet above the ground, with strategically placed observation points that offer a critter’s-eye view of the forest canopy.
“What we care about is connecting people with nature. It embodies who we are,” said Stephanie Ratcliffe, executive director of the 10-year-old Wild Center. “Our exhibit techniques, the way we designed our building and the Wild Walk — it’s all intended to connect people with nature and really have this new perspective on the world around them.”
Inside the museum, designed to resemble a traditional North Woods “great camp,” visitors peer through glass walls for an underwater view of trout, turtles and playful otters in a variety of Adirondack habitats. When you go outside to the Wild Walk, you start out in Feeder Alley, a gently sloping ramp walled with wood slats through which you can peer at goldfinches, blue jays and dozens of other birds flocking to many surrounding birdfeeders.
The gradual incline on the walkway makes the structure accessible to people of all abilities, Ratcliffe said.
There are family friendly features such as an oversized eagle’s nest of woven branches that offers an exhilarating view of Adirondack peaks, a 30-foot-wide bouncy orb spider’s web 30 feet above the ground, and a four-story realistic reproduction of a hollow pine that can be explored from the perspective of a burrowing squirrel or owl via a spiral staircase.
“My favorite was going in the spider’s web,” said 4-year-old Beckett Lasher, of Warrentown, Virginia.
“I love the construction of the tree. It looks very real,” said parent Joe Short, of Concord, New Hampshire. “As a kid I read a book, ‘My Side of the Mountain,’ where a kid runs away and lives in a hollow tree. It captures that feeling perfectly.”
On one platform, children hop from square to square on a board game that lets them play the role of a bird and experience avian challenges like seed shortages, snowstorms, migration and predation.
“I got eaten by a snake,” said Short’s 7-year-old daughter, Madeleine.
Signs and naturalists tell the stories of surrounding trees, many of them close enough to touch, and how they feed and shelter the birds and scampering red squirrels that are abundant.
The grounds of the museum also feature trails meandering through fragrant evergreen forests to a boardwalk and viewing platforms along a wild, placid stretch of the Raquette River, where guided canoe tours are scheduled in summer.
“What I love about the Wild Walk is the way it nestles perfectly in the forest,” Ratcliffe said. “You’re walking on a very artistic structure, a giant sculpture in the woods.”
The museum typically has about 70,000 visitors a year, but the Wild Walk is expected to expand that to more than 100,000, Ratcliffe said.
“It’s very well done, said Carey Lasher, Beckett’s mother. “I was thoroughly impressed. Everyone in the family can enjoy it.”