At Play Among the Trees

  • A artist's rendering of the proposed forest canopy exhibition at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee, Vt. (Courtesy Vermont Institute of Natural Science) Courtesy Vermont Institute of Natural Science

  • Charlie Rattigan, director of Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee, Vt., on Oct. 5, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Bennett Sintros, 18 months, peers into the trees while his grandfather Thomas Sintros hands him a drawing at a forest exhibit at Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee, Vt., on Oct. 5, 2017. Bennett's grandparents, of Alstead, N.H., brought him to the science center. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/7/2017 12:05:08 AM
Modified: 10/7/2017 12:05:12 AM

Since it opened in 2009, the High Line in New York City, a walkway along a nearly 1½-mile elevated, abandoned rail line on the city’s lower West Side, has become a tourist magnet and a model of innovative landscape architecture.

At an elevation of 30 feet, the rail line cuts through downtown neighborhoods at a height and angle that gives you an entirely new perspective on the urban landscape.

What if you were able to construct a similar high line, but through a forest canopy?

Imagine walking through the trees at the same level as, say, woodpeckers, thrushes, squirrels and porcupines, and being able to look at the world along the same sight lines. Unless you’re Spider-Man, the odds are that it would be something you haven’t seen or experienced before.

And, when people who have infrequent contact with the natural world are able to encounter it in a fresh and unexpected way, the reasoning goes, the more invested they will become in conserving it. At least that’s the hope.

The Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS), which this year marks its 45th anniversary, is betting on just that with its plans for a forest canopy walk on a portion of its 47-acre property in Quechee, said its executive director, Charlie Rattigan, in an interview this week at VINS.

The forest canopy walk is tentatively scheduled to open in the summer of 2019. The total budget for the project is $933,000, and VINS has raised $290,000 to date.

In the past three years, the annual visitor count at VINS has gone from some 24,000 people to around 38,000, said Rattigan. The hope is that a forest canopy walk would increase annual attendance by another 30 to 35 percent.

The 300-foot-long canopy walk, which would begin behind the raptor houses, would be at an approximate elevation of 40 feet, give or take. It would lead visitors through a classic New England mix of hard-and softwood trees, and would offer views of the Ottauquechee River and Dewey’s Pond.

Along the way, adults and children could experience sitting in a simulated eagle’s nest, romping on a large, bouncy spider web and exploring a treehouse. It will also be accessible to those with limited mobility.

“There will be places to pause, play and socialize,” Rattigan said.

The canopy walk, Rattigan said, is based on similar attractions at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, in the Adirondacks; the Holden Arboretum in Kirtland, Ohio, near Cleveland; and the Morris Arboretum at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

At each venue the canopy walk has proven to be transformational in terms of attracting visitors, Rattigan said.

The genesis for forest canopy walks came out of work pioneered by Meg Lowman, now the director of global initiatives at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, Rattigan said. (Lowman is also sometimes referred to as “Canopy Meg.”)

Lowman has spent much of her career as a scientist studying life above ground, in the treetops, so that people can better understand the importance of preserving forest ecosystems.

Her ideas have been translated into the kind of hands-on public education initiatives that draw both crowds and attention to the globe’s dwindling forests.

VINS already offers educational and experiential environmental programming about raptors, astronomy and the New England landscape. It is also home to the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation.

With the addition of a forest canopy walk, Rattigan said, “I think we can provide a fuller experience” for visitors, including those, he said, who might not necessarily be interested in raptors.

The attraction, Rattigan said, would give VINS the “ability to engage people more fully in an experience you can’t normally have.”

As part of VINS’ 45th anniversary, it begins a nearly week-long exhibition and sale of work completed during its annual Plein Air painting festival, which ran from Sept. 30 to Oct. 6. The exhibition and sale start today and run through Friday, Oct. 14.

For more information go to or call 802-359-5000.

Nicola Smith can be reached at

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