When I was a child, I climbed a lot of trees. And although it always proved to be the perfect strategy to beat my friends in an intense game of hide-and-seek, I always knew the impulse to do so was much greater. Once propped and nestled between branches of a large oak tree in my childhood backyard, I would look down towards the ground and across the property, mesmerized not only how unfamiliar everything looked, but also how differently I felt looking at it.
Although I was high above the ground, I was more connected with the earth and the creatures that I shared it with even more; all it took for me to escape to this new world was a sense of adventure and the risk of scraped knees.
It is exactly this sense of childhood wonderment about the natural world that the Wild Walk in New York's Adirondacks region has offered visitors since its debut last summer. Located near Tupper Lake, the Wild Walk was recently named one of the world’s best places to visit over the summer. Frequently compared to New York City’s High Line, which opened only 6 years prior, the elevated walkway that winds through the Adirondack forest canopy transforms your view of a place that once felt so familiar by simply providing new angles of observing it.
The attraction belongs to the Wild Center, a nonprofit institution that functions on 81 of the six million total acres that make up Adirondack Park.
A self-described "un-museum," the mission of the Wild Center, which opened its doors in 2006, is to encourage visitors to understand, appreciate, and interact with the diverse ecology of Adirondack flora and fauna. Very much dedicated to a hands-on approach to education, the Wild Center uses multimedia exhibitions as well as guided hikes and canoe trips to achieve its goal of inspiring and expanding individuals' relationship to the natural environment.
And what better way is there to change perspectives than to literally build a new one?
The Wild Walk is a trail of paths and bridges expanding across the forest canopy, offering a view of the landscape as experienced by the 72 different species of birds and animals that inhabit its treetops. Beginning at grade level, the walkway inclines gradually to as high as 42 feet. Although a meager number compared to other hiking trails in the area, such as the state's highest peak Mt. Marcy that rises 5,344 feet (five times higher than the deck of the Empire State Building!), the sensation of height is far more complex. For instance, a tree at the foot of a trail will more or less look the same as a tree 3,000 miles up a mountain, so long as your feet are on the ground. On the Wild Walk, you can observe a whole new ecological system, active and animated, operating just degrees of altitude higher from where you parked your car.
It took eight years of planning and development for Charles P Reay, the architect behind the IBM Pavillon for the 1964 World’s Fair and the Space Museum in Washington, DC, to complete his vision of an “outgrowth of the forest.” Indeed, Reay achieves this in both form and concept.
The 27 cylindrical, pointed towers that line and support the walkway mirror the tree trunks of the white pines that surround them. Made of pre-rusted Corten steel, even the color of these structures are meant to reflect the natural umber and sienna palette of the forest. And, in case you were worried, the construction of the attraction was not invasive to the ecosystem. They bulldozed 50 trees non-native to the Adirondack region but planted 120 new native ones.
The whole, winding path is a panoramic vista. One can even find themselves in their very own playground in the trees: lounge in a treehouse made of twigs, rising an impressive four stories; there are swinging rope bridges that simulate the sensation of an animal’s movement from tree to tree; you can ascend the height of the tallest species of tree in the region, the White Pine, on a spiral staircase hallowed out from its trunk; lounge on a rope web like you would a hammock, with dozens of feet of sky beneath you; when you make it to the end, look out as an eagle would, at the highest vantage point designed to look like, you guessed it, an eagle’s nest.
The higher I climbed, the more grounded I became. I was only a visitor to this foreign landscape, previously unknown despite being only a few layers above. There is an inevitable awareness that overcomes you when gaze into something much more vast than your everyday surroundings. It stirs optimism and excitement, as it opens your mind to all of the things our earth has to offer but you have yet to see. At the same time, it stirs empathy for those places whose sustainability is vital for our future, yet increasingly less prioritized in capitalist parts of the globe. The Wild Walk, it seems, hopes for elevation through elevation, offering childlike awe with no scraped knees required.