VINS unveils $1.7M treetop canopy walk

QUECHEE, Vt. (WCAX) A new exhibit at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee gives visitors a bird's-eye view from the treetops.

"This is just one more piece of the visitor experience at VINS," said VINS' Chris Collier.

And it's a piece -- like wings of the snowy owl in a nearby exhibit -- that will take you off the ground. The VINS Forest Canopy Walk is a 900-foot elevated boardwalk that wraps around the grounds.

Interpretive signs on forest life educate you along the way. "Part of the experience is not just reading panels or manipulating exhibits but just the experience of being elevated in the trees and taking risk," explained Collier.

That includes stepping into a huge spider web that is over 40-feet above the forest floor. From there, it's on to the eagle's nest, where huge metal wings, one of several art installations -- add to the ambiance.

VINS executive director Charlie Rattigan says he got the idea for the canopy walk after visiting Costa Rica. The organization has raised close to 90 percent of the $1.7 million cost and the finishing touches are being made. The main goal is to attract more visitors.

"We knew that we need to be finished in October of this year so we could open, because I think there's nothing more appealing than to be able to walk in the canopy as the leaves have changed," Rattigan said.

The highlight of the walk -- stressing 'high' -- is the 100-foot tower. The views from the top look out over the Ottauquechee River.

"So what better way than to wind you way all the way up through the various layers of the forest until you come out on top," Collier said.

The canopy walk is open to the public for the first time on Saturday. It is included in the price of admission.