A Walk on the Wild Side

This may be the City of Trees, but when it comes to getting a good look at these majestic plants, we humans are a vertically challenged bunch. Let’s take a walk among giants.
Canopy Walk By Erica George Dines 045
Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
The canopy walk at the Atlanta Botanical Garden allows visitors to stroll 40 feet above the forest floor.

The Idea

For decades, one of the top eco-tourist destinations in the Amazon rainforest has been canopy walks—bridges that are strung between trees or tall steel structures and allow visitors to stroll high above the forest floor, observing the complex ecosystem that exists only atop its tallest trees. Here, in the U.S., a recent trend of creating smaller versions of these canopy walks has taken root in several places, most notably at the 92-acre Morris Arboretum on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, and the one at the 30-acre Atlanta Botanical Garden. The “Out on a Limb” canopy walk in Pennsylvania opened in 2009 and is 450 feet long and rises nearly 50 feet above the ground. The Atlanta canopy walk opened in 2010 and spans about 600 feet, rising about 40 feet above the ground. With the Sacramento region having one of the highest number of trees per capita in the world, such an attraction would yield both educational and tourism benefits. Naturally, it would require a density of tall trees with public access. One obvious site would be the extraordinary 100-acre UC Davis Arboretum, which happens to include a densely populated redwood grove that was planted in 1941. The school says that it’s one of the largest redwood groves that exists outside of the redwoods’ natural coastal habitats. Not only do the educational benefits make sense for UC Davis, but it will encourage others to learn more about trees by virtue of making learning fun. A path is nice. A canopy walk is awe-inspiring.

The Players

Regardless of where it goes, UC Davis should be involved. And perhaps its college of engineering could work with the arboretum on the structure. And maybe the leaders of the Sacramento Tree Foundation could identify other sites in the region that would make sense as well.

The Bottom Line

The Morris Arboretum canopy walk cost about $3 million to design and build, and has produced a huge boon in annual attendance, from 100,000 to 125,000. While it charges admission for the arboretum, unlike UC Davis, it also derives revenue from renting out the space for weddings and other events. UC Davis could do that, too. The longer and wider Atlanta canopy walk cost $6.5 million to build, and has quickly become one of the top tourist attractions in town. In the same way that our region is embracing its farm-to-fork heritage, it’s time to embrace our other claim to fame. And if that makes us all tree huggers, so be it.