APA approves Wild Walk

The state Adirondack Park Agency board unanimously approved the Wild Center natural history museum’s Wild Walk Thursday.

The project was easily approved and there were no questions or comments from board members.

Board Chairwoman Lani Ulrich called the project “something that brings folks in to appreciate the natural wilderness, but also is of great economic benefit, particularly for the center of the park.” She thanked APA staffers for their work on the project.

Dave St. Onge, the museum’s facilities director, told the Enterprise Friday that the APA permit was the last one he needed before construction.

“We’re very excited about it,” St. Onge said. “It’s going to be a great iconic feature for the Wild Center.”

The museum has now requested bids for a general contractor to oversee the project, and St. Onge said he plans to interview contractors in Albany next week and he expects to decide on a contractor shortly after that.

He noted that construction on the project needs to start this year, because it got $1 million in state money from Empire State Development, money that was awarded to shovel-ready projects.

On Thursday, APA staffer Suzanne McSherry explained the basics of the project to the board. The Wild Walk is planned to be a series of towers with exhibits and features in or on them connected by a series of walkways that increase in elevation.

The project was originally awarded an APA permit in 2007, but that permit expired, and plans for the structure have morphed over time and new elements have been added.

The entire structure is planned to be 450 feet long, and the tallest tower would reach 41.5 feet high.

APA staffers worked with the Wild Center to raise balloons to around the height that the Wild Walk’s towers would reach, and the balloons were only visible from one site on Dugal Road. McSherry said staffers decide there would be no undue adverse impact in terms of views in the area.

Aaron Ziemann, an APA project analyst, explained the museum’s silviculture plans for the area around the Wild Walk, and Dan Kelleher, the APA’s special assistant for economic affairs, talked about the potential economic benefits of the project.

Kelleher explained that the Wild Center, like most similar public institutions, saw a lot of interest in the first few years it was open but that interest has dropped off recently.

“Large-scale institutions such as the museum need to continually re-invest to continue to draw users in,” Kelleher said.

In order to maintain the museum’s current 72 payroll positions and $1.5 million on annual payroll, it needs to expand or make a capital investment, he said.

In addition to that, the museum is currently seeing 72 percent more visits on rainy days than it sees on sunny days, so officials there are looking for ways to draw in visitors when the weather is good.

Kelleher said the museum expects to employ about 60 part-time workers during construction and add two full-time employees after it is erected.

Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or jcollier@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.