Quechee’s VINS gives a tour of the treetops with new canopy boardwalk

  • Vermont Institute of Natural Science Assistant Executive Director Mary Davidson Graham, left, walks with forest canopy scientist Meg Lowman, right, on the Forest Canopy Walk in Quechee, Vt., Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. The ADA compliant structure takes visitors to different levels of the tree canopy with sculpture, overlooks of Dewey's Pond, and a giant spiderweb suspended over the forest floor for visitors to climb on. It is scheduled to open on Oct. 12. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Meg Lowman, a forest canopy scientist from Sarasota, Fla., climbs to the top of the tree house, the highest point of the new Forest Canopy Walk at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee, Vt., during a tour for reporters, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. Lowman gave the keynote address at a launch party for staff, builders, and donors of the project Saturday evening. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Vermont Institute of Natural Science Executive Director Charles Rattigan, left, and Director of On-Site Programs and Exhibits Chris Collier, right, watch a downy woodpecker while giving reporters a tour of the new VINS Forest Canopy Walk in Quechee, Vt., on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019, ahead of the attraction's scheduled opening on Oct. 12. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/28/2019 10:08:00 PM
Modified: 9/28/2019 10:18:52 PM

QUECHEE — After more than three decades of exploring, writing about and helping to preserve forest canopies around the world, biologist Meg Lowman figured she’d seen just about everything in the way of manmade pathways through the mid- and upper reaches of such ecosystems.

Then the executive director of the Tree Foundation joined a sneak-peak tour of the Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences’ soon-to-open boardwalk in Quechee on Saturday morning, high amid soaring red maples, red oaks, white birches, hemlocks and white pines.

Climbing the last step to the highest viewing platform, aka The Treehouse, Lowman gasped at the panorama: Ottauquechee River in the foreground, more than 100 feet below, with Dewey’s Pond just behind it and a low ridge rising beyond showing the first hints of fall color.

“Omigosh!” she exclaimed. “I’m going to live here!”

If she did move in, Lowman, known as Canopy Meg, would be sharing her new home with a lot more people — as well as the institute’s wide range of resident and visiting birds, mammals and hungry caterpillars — starting Oct. 12.

Or so VINS’ leaders, staff and benefactors are counting on, at the dawn of the next phase of the institute’s 47-year history, the last 15 in Quechee.

“We’ve projected that adding this to our attractions will bring in 25,000 more visitors a year,” Executive Director Charlie Rattigan said. “And we’re estimating a gain in revenue of $310,000.”

That’s on top of the 37,000-plus visitors VINS reported attracting during its 2017-18 fiscal year and the $1 million-plus the institute took in from admissions, merchandise purchases at the visitor center and summer camps.

While the institute’s move to Quechee enabled VINS to expand its Raptor Center and to start a trails system in the woods, “not that many visitors have taken advantage as we’d hoped,” Rattigan said.

The solution: Start a boardwalk where one of the main foot trails ended to create a wood-framed, fiberglass-grated Forest Canopy Walk, allowing people with disabilities to experience the environment and see the river without climbing.

“It would be great if there were a hawk-watching site here at some point,” Chris Collier, director of on-site programs and exhibits, said while admiring the view from The Treehouse. Pointing to the walkway between the Ottauquechee and Dewey’s Pond, he added, “I keep waiting to see snapping turtles come right up there to lay their eggs, then seeing their babies.”

Lowman said that, after consulting on 30-plus canopy boardwalk projects, VINS’ is the only one she’s seen in North America that meets the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

That inclusivity, along with the informational value of a loftier perspective on nature, is why Lowman thinks the VINS project can help the people understand how wildlife struggles against man-made threats have, for example, reduced North America’s bird population by nearly 3 billion over the last 50 years.

“A lot of my experience is in the tropics,” Lowman said. “What there are in the way of canopy walks in the temperate zones are mostly closed to the public, so many people who aren’t researchers don’t know what they’re missing.”

“This is grandiose,” she said. “This is the coolest.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com a nd at 603-727-3304.

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