Hold on to your hat when you reach the top of the 120-foot Kalberer Emergent Tower at Holden Arboretum in Kirtland. Although it may not seem the least bit windy on the ground, high breezes blow freely with no trees trunks or limbs to slow them down. Those who tackle the tower (and that includes a number of toddlers and a few energetic 90-year-olds who made it to the top) climb stairs that wrap around the outside, then wind inside the open structure.
The Emergent Tower features seven observation areas on the way to the top so climbers can pretend to just hang out and enjoy the view while they are really just trying to catch their breath.
“A lot of times when you see other structures similar to this, they are in the middle of a field,” says Cait Anastis, editor of Forests & Gardens magazine and a spokesperson for Holden Forests & Gardens. “But ours is right in the middle of the forest. It’s a breathtaking view. You can see 10 miles to the south, 10 miles to the north and Lake Erie on a clear day. You don’t see a lot of manmade structures — you are looking at a forest.”
The combined $1.3 million tower and nearby Judith and Maynard H. Murch IV Canopy Walk are part of Holden’s $9 million New Leaf capital campaign. The structures opened in 2015.
The canopy walk gives visitors a bird’s-eye view of the forest, which includes oak and tulip (yellow poplar) trees. Four suspension bridges totaling 500 feet in length feature handrails and steel mesh for safety. Yep, the bridges gently sway and bounce a tiny bit, but are engineered to do so. And besides, you wouldn’t feel like Indiana Jones if they were completely stationary. In some places along the canopy walk (the highest point is 65 feet), you might be eyeball-to-eyeball with birds, bats and butterflies that live among the trees.
“Attendance for 2016 was almost double our average annual attendance,” says Anastis. “We had 173,000 people come to the arboretum, and a good portion were new people. Last year 104,000 guests did the canopy walk and 96,000 did the tower. We have also seen memberships increase. Monitoring Facebook and other social media, we know visitors love the structures and want to come back in every season to see the forest change.”
“Great pains were taken not to do any damage to the surrounding areas,” says Anastis about creating the structures. Some pre-assembled sections of the tower were airlifted into place by the help of a helicopter, and mats were laid on the forest floor to prevent tree root damage. Others worried about crowds.
“Once people saw what we did and how we protected everything, the concerns settled down,” says Anastis. “And Holden is 3,600 acres. There are enough places to be by yourself if that’s what you want.”
People aren’t the only ones who have taken the challenge. Guide dogs in training climb the tower and traverse the canopy walk to become comfortable using stairs and walking on the open grid floor that allows snow and rain to dissipate quickly. The canines (unlike some of us) don’t seem to be afraid of heights.
9550 Sperry Road, Kirtland, 440-946-4400, holdenarb.org