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Ride through the skies to access new Californian Zoo trail

Jessica Evans
11 Jul 2019

A 50 acre expansion at Oakland Zoo promotes native California animals and plants via a new trail

Furthering the zoo’s conservation mission, the California Trail project doubles the size of the complex and contributes to the zoo's provision of education and research.

Following the perseverance of the Conservation Society of California, the $72 million project reflects a pinnacle of community collaboration.

Located in Knowland Park, the design was focused on conservation and was strategically placed where the project would have the least impact on the natural environment and the surrounding oak trees. To reduce the impact further, no roads or parking lots were created to transport visitors to the trail. Instead, visitors fly over the landscape in a gondola.

“We worked closely with the zoo to minimise impact to the natural landscape, from the placement of the gondola that eliminates auto traffic to the careful sitting of the boardwalk that preserves oak trees,” said Janet Tam, Project Principle, Noll & Tam.

The gondola ride takes visitors on an experiential and educational journey through several habitats, as well as offering views of the San Francisco Bay area. The elevated boardwalk is 800 feet long and continues the journey through the exhibitions. The animals can retreat to their feeding areas and night habitats, and visitors can stop by the Landing Cafe or the Interpretive Center. The loop trail ends back at the Visitor and Interpretive Center complex, where the gondola station and platform is located, along with offices, restrooms and the restaurant.

“The California Trail is designed to take visitors on a journey that awakens a call to action, a feeling of responsibility and personal commitment to protect the natural environment,” said Tam.

The trail includes a children’s playground that is designed to reflect the ecological zones of California. Children can receive hands-on learning inside the California Conservation Habitarium, exploring settings that replicate mountains, redwoods, deserts and estuaries. Additionally, the overnight camping ground was fitted with tent platforms and facilities for children to learn about animals and conservation at night outside. Learning kiosks act as resting spots with views towards the animal exhibits.

The buildings were designed to ‘take second seat to the natural surroundings’ and are simple and sustainable structures with the use of solar power and rainwater harvesting.

“The commitment to fine tune the design while creating an immersive and interactive experience was an unprecedented collaboration with the whole team. Working together throughout the project, we were able to deliver something truly special,” said Tam.

Noll & Tam worked with the Zoo in order to create a stimulating and safe environment for the animals, as the experience for the animals was just as important as the visitors. Living amongst the oak trees and hills, the eight endangered Californian species include the black bear, grizzly bear, mountain lion, grey wolf, bison, jaguar, bald eagle, and the California condor.

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