Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Aurelien Hagnere, with Treetop Quest, works on building a part of the Canopy Adventure exhibit at the Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center on Friday morning.
BUFORD -- Are decaying leaves and dead wood bad for the forest? You'll have to go down a zipline to find out.
At Buford's Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center, people will soon be swinging, climbing and gliding through the trees, learning about nature as they play in the new Treetop Quest exhibit opening Sept. 3.
A team of French laborers have been out this summer building platforms, bridges, netting and more for the adventure. Despite the work, only three trees, all of them diseased, were removed from the woods outside the museum. And special care was taken that not even the bark was harmed by the platforms, which are designed to allow the trees to grow.
"It's very important for the canopy because the forest and the trees is our tour. Without it, we can't have a tour. So it's very important we protect the forest," said Antoine Buliard, the U.S. development manager for Treetop Quest who has overseen the construction.
One of the felled trees was carved into an alligator and a wayward stump became a bench in the outdoor landscape.
"It's a wonderful addition to the attractions we have here," the center's spokesman Jason West said, adding that Treetop Quest is considered a museum exhibit, with questions about the environment mounted along the sky trail.
"You get the answer as you go from place to place," he said, adding, "It ties not only to an environmental mission, but one of the things we highlight is a healthy lifestyle. ... This is a big part of what we do."
Built as a partnership with the museum's foundation, Treetop Quest was built at the expense of the company (of the same name). The company pays a monthly fee to the foundation but will keep any proceeds from the adventures. Ticket prices have not yet been set.
Hank Houser, chairman of the foundation's board, said his group was convinced that the exhibit is safe. Buliard demonstrated equipment that ensures people are also always attached to cables alongside the course, where people can trek as high as 50 feet off the ground. There is even a special course for kids as young as 4 with special hooks, he said.
"We're remarkably excited about it," Houser said. "The more exhibits and opportunities we have to get people out to the center, the better for the center. It's a great thing."