Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 19, 2014

Man plans canopy walkway through the trees

By MICHELLE MERLIN mmerlin@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Northern Michigan’s trees are a big draw for visitors, but it can be a challenge to experience such vibrant foliage at eye level.

Mark Evans, a resident of British Columbia, hopes to sharpen that focus by building a canopy walk, or a pathway along the upper level of the forest in Leelanau County’s Kasson Township. Evans built several such walkways around the world, albeit on a larger scale.

“It takes people through the forest and exposes them in a way they’ve not seen it before,” Evans said. “Everyone has seen it at ground level, but very few people have walked through the canopy level.”

The walk would be the first of its kind in North America. Evans has a vision for the project, called the Sleeping Bear Air Walk, to be both a tourist attraction and an educational tool for local students.

Evans expects the nonprofit would charge somewhere around $15 for adults and $9 for children. But some locals are wary that the project could be a blemish on the area’s bucolic atmosphere.

Last month, Evans and his business partner Bob Barnes shared their canopy idea with the Kasson Township Planning Commission, though they’ve yet to file a formal application to build such an attraction. Evans said he’s trying to pull together an estimate of the project’s cost over the next few weeks and expects it to be between $4 and $6 million.

The walkway would weave through an 83-acre parcel near Fritz and Baatz roads with an average elevation of 60 feet. Twelve towers would be installed to support the 2,000-foot-long path.

The area is zoned for residential development, and Evans would need to apply for an outdoor recreational establishment permit, said Mike Lanham,

Kasson Township’s zoning administrator.

Evans said the walkway likely would be open from May through October.

“We see it as a complementary addition to the area and something to complement the dunes experience,” Evans said.

More than 30 people have written letters to the township to oppose the project, said Kenneth Carter, who chairs the Kasson Township Planning Commission.

The Glen Lake Association solicited reactions to the project from its members, most of which have been negative.

“Probably the common thread is that most people have visited National Parks in other parts of the country and have witnessed what typically takes place outside those National Parks,” said Peter Anderson, the president of the Glen Lake Association. “There’s a fear that’s exactly what this development is trying to do here.”

Anderson is concerned a canopy walk would spur undesirable tourist development, put pressure on local infrastructure, and detract from the beauty of the forest and nearby Glen Lake.

Evans said his plans include bringing community members to the walkway. He’d like to see schoolchildren use the site as a learning experience and also replant trees in the area.

He’d also welcome researchers, especially those wanting to study the emerald ash borer, a beetle that’s killing ash trees across the country.

But all of the hoopla about the project may be premature.

“If it comes to fruition, there’s something to talk about,” Carter said. “Right now it hasn’t come before the commission as far as a permit.”

Evans made a similar presentation to the Warren County Tourism Department in New York in 2010, but the project never took root.