By Deborah Brancic/Daily News correspondent
WORCESTER — Editor’s note: This is the second in an occasional series looking at fun things to do in and around MetroWest this summer.
The walkway is the only one in New England, and the first in the country, created for public use. Open since July 1999, the walkway consists of a series of platforms connected by rope bridges, located near the tops of the hickory and oak trees at the EcoTarium.
“Take a look and see if you can make sense of any of the equipment,” Camp director Lisa Levine told the women before heading into the canopy, handing them helmets and other gear.
Katrina French recognized the harnesses, explaining she had to hang in a tree for five hours using something similar when she was a flying monkey for Halloween.
“Well, I promise we won’t keep you out here for five hours,” Levine joked.
The walkway, Levine said, has a lot of hidden tricks that she told the group to keep an eye out for.
“If the bridges are wiggling, if the platform is wiggling in the breeze, that’s normal stuff,” Levine said before sending the girls across to the first station.
Levine said the zipline was manually operated, and the speed controlled by Tree Canopy staff member Isak Oberg.
Teresa French was first to take the ride, screaming as if on a rollercoaster. Katrina French followed shortly, at a more relaxed speed. Their mom squealed as she zipped to the ground, stating simply, “help,” before pushing off.
Once on the ground, the young girls expressed the desire to go back up in the canopy, but there were other attractions for the explorers to check out at the EcoTarium.
The Explorer Express Train takes museum visitors for a 12-minute tour of the grounds in a 1860s model steam engine. The train passes through a tunnel, where riders can test the acoustics, and offers the chance to view the wildlife wandering about. There are also several nature trails to entertain and educate future scientists.
Later this month, a new outdoor adventure called Tree Aerial Adventures will offer visitors the chance to climb an old-growth oak tree, with the use of ropes and harnesses, said Julieane Frost, manager of communications and marketing at the EcoTarium,
“We will be having tree-climbing parties here where people will be able to … harness themselves up into ropes and climb in the trees…,” Frost said. “We’re sort of taking this to another level.”
The excursion would be a two-hour, privately guided tour, and Levine attended tree climbing school in Georgia to train and learn how to teach people the proper climbing and safety procedures.
“It’s recreational tree climbing, but it’s pretty much the same techniques that more modern arborists use, so it’s spikeless climbing,” Levine explained. “It’s rope-climbing on trees so you’re not damaging the tree or the bark… similar to top-roping for rock-climbing.”
The Ecotarium is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed on Mondays. Admission is $14 for adults, $8 for children (2-18), $10 for seniors (65+) and $10 for students with ID. The Tree Canopy Walkway is open to the public, both during the week and on weekends, from June 24-Aug. 19. The walkway is $10 (plus the price of museum admission), or $8 for members.