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Rail to Trail: Minnesota Zoo’s Monorail Track Transformed Into 32-ft Pedestrian Path

The highly anticipated Treetop Trail in Minnesota Zoo is finally open to the public. This is the world’s longest pedestrian trail at 1.25 miles, and it sits at a height of 32 feet above the ground. Visitors will be treated to breathtaking views of tigers, bison, moose, birds, and more.

Construction was led by PCL Construction and Minneapolis-based Snow Kreilich Architects led the design scheme, along with engineering firm Buro Happold (known for the High Line in NYC) and landscape architects TEN x TEN. Together, they transformed a former monorail structure into a walkway, offering visitors an avenue to connect with nature and animals.

In an earlier press release, Minnesota Zoo Director John Frawley said, “The Treetop Trail will provide an accessible and immersive pathway to nature for all ages, abilities, backgrounds, and communities.”

Transforming Minnesota Zoo’s Monorail Track into a Walkable Pathway

The Treetop Trail replaces the original monorail track which opened in 1979 and was retired in 2013. This impressive $39 million project was funded through a mix of public and private support, with planning starting in June 2018 and groundbreaking in April 2022. Expanding the zoo’s area by 70,000 square feet, the trail is composed of 400 20-foot modular sections, cleverly assembled using custom-made trolleys during construction.

Around 1,000 tons of new structural steel is used to reinforce angles, walkway frames, and handrails in the Treetop Trail. The entrance to the trail showcases the zoo’s new animal ambassador habitat, where guests can encounter various species native to Minnesota.

Zoo director John Frawley says “The Treetop Trail gives guests year-round access to hundreds of acres of hardwood forest, ponds and marshes, and the diverse wildlife that calls Minnesota home. And, of course, a bird’s eye view for bird watchers. It adds more than 70,000 square feet to the Zoo and includes 22 bump-out overlooks to enhance the viewing experience while walking the trail.”

The transformation of the old monorail track at the Minnesota Zoo into the remarkable Treetop Trail stands as a shining example of how old structures can be repurposed into something unique and useful. Thoughtful planning, innovative design, and collaboration among architects, engineers, and construction teams can breathe new life into forgotten infrastructures, providing extraordinary opportunities for visitors to reconnect with nature and wildlife in unprecedented ways.

By repurposing existing elements, not only does the Treetop Trail offer a world-class, 1.25-mile pedestrian experience soaring 32 feet above the ground, but it also exemplifies sustainability in action. Utilizing modular sections and custom-made trolleys to assemble the trail, this project showcases the potential to minimize waste and reduce the environmental impact of construction.

As for restoration purposes, we can start looking at 3D printing as a viable solution. By creating digital models based on existing structures, 3D printers can reproduce intricate details and architectural elements that may be challenging to recreate using traditional methods. Additionally, 3D printing allows for customization, enabling restoration projects to adapt to specific needs and requirements. Embracing 3D printing in restoration endeavors opens new possibilities for preserving historical and cultural landmarks while ensuring their longevity for future generations to cherish and enjoy.

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