Naturally28 September 2021
/ Focus on a new type of tourist attractions that is taking hold around the world: valuable natural environments become accessible to all and can be appreciated from a new perspective /
For thousands of years humankind was part of a natural environment. They made their beds among trees, or inside caves, and they lived on what they hunted, fished, farmed or bred. Today they live in cities, they work facing a computer or some kind of machinery in a factory, they open their windows at home to see nothing but concrete buildings: they have lost their symbiotic relationship with nature, and they feel the lack of that primordial energy down to their souls. That’s why an ever-growing number of people go looking for that lost contact with nature as a source of well being and as an anti-stress therapy: it is a sort of preventive medicine for which you need no prescription, but whose results are real and have been proven by many scientific studies.
Going back to nature can take the most varied forms: from farmhouse vacations to farming vegetables in one’s own community garden, from forest bathing to sports in the great outdoors, such as climbing or paragliding, and so on and so for.
This same return to Mother Nature is also behind the growing success in recent years of a new type of “green” and “experiential” tourist attraction: spiral-shaped observation towers with a height spanning dozens of meters, built with the minimum possible environmental impact, and set in a spectacular natural scenery, usually in the mountains. When you climb the gently sloping spiral staircase, surrounded by nature, you can blissfully enjoy breathtaking views from every perspective; and as you finally reach the top, above the tree canopy, you get an unobstructed 360° view on the surrounding landscape.
Those who tried the experience talk about it with enthusiasm, calling it “inspiring” and “memorable.” In the vast majority, the observation tower is coupled with treetop walks that are just as exciting and that work as a sort of introduction to the bigger attraction; the walkways wind their way through the woods and allow visitors to discover the greenery at different heights (sometimes the paths go on for over 1km and reach as high as 20-25m above ground); mostly there are also stations equipped with learning and fun activities. It’s a nice way to immerse oneself in nature, body and soul, a more direct and fun way to get to know nature, and also a way to raise awareness for environmental protection, which is now more important than ever.
Towers with many shapes
We called them towers, but the shape of these peculiar tourist attractions is not necessarily the shape of your typical tower. The common trait is their height, stretching many meters up in the air, and the predominance of wood and steel for construction, but the adopted solutions are often the result of overcoming huge engineering and architectural challenges.
For instance, on the shores of Steinberg lake, not far from Munich, Germany, since 2019 the inMotion action park has been home to Erlebnis Holzkugel: an observation tower in the shape of a 40m tall walkable sphere, entirely made of larch and fir, and weighing over 500 tons. The attraction took 2 years of planning and 15 months to complete, involving several German companies (among them, Hess Timber who designed and built the sphere). Inside the ‘open’ structure of the attraction, you can find a 600m long spiraling path that gently climbs up to the top, from where you can enjoy stunning views over the lake. There are also two 25m high suspension bridges, 25 game stations featuring, for example, wooden moving platforms and catwalks, and right in the middle of the sphere, an enclosed twisting steel slide. 250m long, it leads straight to the ground.
Such a slide, although shorter (80m), can be seen also inside the tower in Janské Lázně, which is set inside the Krkonoše National Park up in the Giant Mountains in Czech Republic, not far from the border with Poland. The tower is 45m tall and has a unique shape that is reminiscent of a blossoming flower, narrower at ground level and wider at the top. But it also has another special feature: it is one of several towers that enclose an enclosed closed slide (this one is 80m long) that thrill-lovers can use to slide back down. Another rare feature, maybe unique to this tower, is the presence of a 1.5km nature trail that also goes underground, reaching a cave where visitors can admire the extraordinary view on the trees’ huge, entangled roots.
A nine-sided shape is the distinctive feature of the only observation tower in Slovenia, which opened to the public in 2019 on Mount Rogla (in Styria, in the north-east of the country), at around 1,500m above sea level. This tower is 37m tall, and it also features a tunnel slide (62m long) and a 1km trail in the woods.
Both these attractions are owned by joint ventures that include German company eak-Erlebnis Akademie as a partner, i.e. the leading manufacturer and operator in this field in Europe, if not in the world. Just consider their portfolio: 11 towers in Germany, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Austria and France (4 of which owned and managed in partnership), a turnover of 14.9 million euros and 1.8 million visitors (data based on the year 2020).
It was in the company’s homeland that eak built the most extravagant towers. Since 2009, among the treetops of the Bavarian Forest National Park one can see something that locals call the “tree egg.” This tower was awarded several national titles, including the one for “Outstanding Tourist Architecture,” and it promises a magnificent view from its 44m height, on the one side in the direction of a settlement-free area with forest and wilderness, and on the other side on the cultivated cultural landscape of the Bavarian Forest all the way to the Alps.
In Germany’s largest island, the green Rügen in the Baltic Sea, there is a 40m-tall observation tower that looks like an eagle’s nest, and to make matters more difficult for eak’s designers, it was built around a 30m-tall copper beech. As you climb the spiral walkway to the top of the tower, you can touch the tree’s leafy branches and admire the way it grows; from the top, then, you can enjoy the charming view on beech woods and alder marshes. There are also a 52m enclosed steel slide starting from a nearby platform, a path through nature in the woods, and a visitors’ center, created with support by the German Federal Foundation for the Environment DBU (Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt), where visitors can discover local ecosystems through exhibits and hands-on activities.
Another tower that boasts both an original shape and a magnificent position is the one in Orscholz, Saarland (south-west Germany, near the border with France and Luxembourg). It is a 42m tall half-cylinder inspired by the famous landscape that surrounds it: the Saarschleife, the spectacular great bend in the Saar River. The tower is only reachable along a 1.2km walkway winding among beech oak and fir trees; since 2020, not far from the tower you can also find the Adventure Forest, a 7,000sqm area with a playground and play & learn stations where families can get to know local fauna and flora.
One other tower that we cannot forget in this round up is the Forest Tower, a 45m tall, hourglass-shaped tower designed by architectural studio Effekt and built by Arkhus; it opened in 2019 on the biggest island in Denmark, Zealand, and more specifically in Haslev, one hour’s drive from Copenhagen, in one of the rare hill areas of that country and inside the biggest adventure park in Denmark, the Camp Adventure Park. The view from the top is breathtaking: from up there you overlook southern Zealand and, on a clear day, the view stretches for 50km and more, to Copenhagen and Malmö in Sweden.
“Instead of a cylindrical shape we chose a hyperbolic curvature: it provides greater structural stability, space to let the foliage of the adjacent trees grow and an observation deck on top that can house the greatest number of visitors possible,” said Effekt architects. The tower, made with oak wood that was reclaimed on site and steel, stands on a concrete base. For its construction, it was necessary to install a temporary central tower, in order to ensure stability during assembly and welding…
Continue reading Games & Parks Industry September 2021, page 24
Photos Courtesy: © inMotion, © eak
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