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A walk among the trees

BY HOWARD FLUXGOLD | SEP 08 2008

Look up, way up. A new canopy walkway at UBC Botanical Garden allows visitors to take a stroll 20 metres off the ground amidst the garden’s 100-year-old fir trees.

If they’re lucky, visitors might get a glimpse of a piliated woodpecker tapping out a rhythm on a nearby trunk, or an owl wondering who is invading his territory. It will be more difficult to spot the bald eagles through the dense canopy, but as the season changes and the foliage thins, the eagles, the Fraser River and Georgia Straight will come into view.

The 308-metre-long walkway, four years in the planning, design and construction, is the work of Greenheart Conservation Co. It opened in mid-August and will provide researchers, school children and other visitors with a valuable opportunity to learn about B.C.’s coastal forest through the four seasons.

“One of the most important things for us was the opportunity to develop a curriculum for high school and grade school children,” says Jodi Simkins, administrative manager at the Botanical Garden.

The walkway is the only one of its kind on a Canadian campus. Its eight viewing platforms, connected by narrow aluminum walkways, feature a unique tree-hugger design by Greenheart, based on the traditional Chinese finger puzzle. “There are no bolts into the trees,” explains Karen Wheatcroft of Greenheart, whose president Ian Green is a UBC alumnus. When weight is placed on the platforms, a support mechanism tightens around the trees. “Otherwise the trees are free to move and grow naturally.”

Greenheart provided the $1.5 million in capital for the structure and will share in the revenue it generates for the next 20 years. Cost for a 40-minute guided tour is $20, which includes admission to the Botanical Garden. Ms. Simkins says she hopes the walkway will increase visits to the Garden and the revenue generated “will be used to help with infrastructure.”

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