Planning board schedules hearing on Wild Walk

TUPPER LAKE – The town and village planning board has set a hearing on The Wild Center’s Wild Walk, an 850-foot elevated walkway through the treetops around the natural history museum.

The hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6. It will be held at The Wild Center so board members and the public can see the museum’s model of the project.

The planning board usually meets the fourth Wednesday of the month, but the hearing was scheduled earlier in the month at the request of Wild Center Executive Director Stephanie Ratcliffe. She said planning board approval is needed before the state Adirondack Park Agency can permit the project.

“We are working on a very tight timeline in terms of making sure we have all of our approvals, etc. in place and getting the project ‘shovel ready’ before the Spring building season,” Ratcliffe wrote to planning board Chairman Jim Larkin in a letter dated Jan. 16.

In December, the Wild Walk won $1 million in state grants toward the $4.5 million project. The museum had already invested about $500,000 of that total into planning and development when it won the award.

The project has been in development for about five years. It was originally envisioned as a way for visitors to learn about birds, and it went by the name “Wings Over the Adirondacks” for some time. The museum even obtained an APA permit for that exhibit. But then museum officials determined an exhibit exclusively about birds won’t draw enough visitors, according to a narrative booklet the museum gave to the planning board.

The museum requested a study be done to assess the potential for the project in 2011. The study found that an outdoor exhibit like the Wild Walk would help turn The Wild Center into both an indoor and an outdoor attraction, while it’s currently seen more as a rainy-day destination.

The report also encouraged a dramatic flair and long views of the Adirondack Mountains to help the Wild Walk compete with other fair-weather attractions.

As it is currently planned, the Wild Walk would incorporate a trail of gently inclining ramps joined together by platforms. Three structures will branch off that base, including a two-story treehouse-like structure, an exhibit about forms of life that find food and shelter in a dead tree, and a “spiderweb,” a stretch of netting material suspended 22 feet and 6 six inches above the forest floor. Each of the elements would be connected to the ramps and platforms with “‘skywalks’ that have been designed to safely wiggle and sway,” according to the booklet.

“This is a very exciting project that will help The Wild Center to enhance the learning and experiential qualities of the Museum’s mission which is to ‘ignite an enduring passion for the Adirondacks where people can thrive together and set an example for the world,'” Ratcliffe wrote in her letter to Larkin.

Plans for the project are available for review in the planning board office at the Tupper Lake Town Hall.