Barrier-free treetop path in the Harz Mountains draws the crowds.
In conversation with operator Eva-Christin Ronkainen-Kolb
Nature observation from a completely different angle
At the foot of the Burgberg hill, in the middle of the health cure town Bad Harzburg's 'Kurpark', a 1,000-metre pathway leads up into the treetops, 20 metres above the ground. 18 platfoms offer visitors almost 50 different experiences and quiet places, with fascinating information about the natural world and its flora and fauna.
Ms Ronkainen, the first treetop path in Niedersachsen is wonderfully successful idea. How did it come about?
The idea evolved here in Bad Harzburg, and it has to be said that the locals saw the signs of the times – it was just this particular attraction that was missing from the Harz Mountains; there are 10,000 km of rambling paths in the Harz, but most of them are impassable for child’s pushchairs and disabled wheelchairs. Our path is barrier-free – we believe that’s one of the reasons for its success: everyone can enjoy it.
How did you get involved in the project?
Before I started working for the Treetop Path I was the Harz Tourist Association press officer, and before that at the ski boarding school in Clausthal-Zellerfeld as a biathlete – so I’m a real child of the Harz and know these wonderful highlands like the back of my hand.
Back in 2014 I heard that a treetop path was being planned for Bad Harzburg and was really excited at the prospect.
Together with my then-fiancé, now husband, I decided to bid for the operation management of the treetop path. We love every day that we can work on this wonderful project. Above all, too, because we’ve been able to welcome so many happy visitors in such a short time since we opened.
What is, actually, so special about this 1,000-metre pathway through the treetops?
The path leads through the ‘Kalte Tal’ (cold valley). The valley is exceptional because it’s like the primeval Harz – this is what it was like all around here before mining began.
The special feeling is seeing nature from the path from a completely new angle, and above all, whether able-bodied or in a wheelchair. Being up in the treetops, face to face with the squirrels … just about every visitor slows down and takes their time, feeling so close to nature. Also, we’ve set up 50 hands-on learning points on topics like the Big Bang and the nature and culture of our region. Our very special highlight opened in the spring of 2016 – the glass walkway, 26 metres in the air with a clear view straight down … I’m sure some visitors take a deep breath before they venture out there!
Why is Bad Harzburg the ideal location?
This is the gateway to the Harz Mountains, with several infrastructure advantages, easy to get to by car or public transport. The treetop path is right beside the main road, close to the tourist information office, thermal saltwater baths and the cablecar. After the treetop path one can go rambling on beautiful footpaths, use the combi-ticket for the cablecar or visit one of the Harz’s many other attractions.
Where do your treetop path visitors come from, and what do they like particularly?
They’re mostly day trippers and come from places not much more than an hour’s drive from here – but of course we also see guests who are staying longer, among them quite a few from abroad. The Harz is particularly popular with the Dutch, Danes and English.
By and large we get very positive feedback on the path and the total experience around Burgberg – and from every kind of visitor. Lots of them speak very highly of the learning stations; they engage with the content and take things home that they hadn’t been aware of or perhaps had forgotten. That sharpens awareness of the environment as a whole.
The project is operated by Harz Venture GmbH and was financially supported by the European Regional Development Fund and the Common Task regional fund (GRW). Were there other partners whose support made a crucial difference?
The treetop path is a shining example of how such a project can work when so many different partners all pull together for the common good and shared success.
The crucial factor was the State Government’s decision to channel two million Euros in EU funding into the project. Without this, the Bad Harzburg tourism and business promotion company KTW would never have been able to build it in this form and so quickly.
Other important partners besides the State of Niedersachsen were Goslar rural district council, Bad Harzburg town council and administration, nature conservation associations and many other contributors of ideas and money.
What’s the most important advice that you’d give other project developers for starting and implementing their idea?
You need a vision, good ideas and above all partners who’ll stand together for the project and work through all the necessary steps to develop the idea further and finally put them into practice.
On top of that you have to be courageous and not let yourself by put off by critics, opponents or legal obstacles, but always work purposefully and with the solutions in view.
In Bad Harzburg the strong team around the KTW managing director Bernd Vollrodt were and still are right behind the treetop path project. It was only because of this and the necessary rigour and optimism that it could be carried through so successfully.
What are you particularly proud of? And, looking back, would you have done anything differently?
Personally, I’m tremendously proud to be part of a great network and team here in Bad Harzburg – for it was only working together with the KTW and many other partners like the forestry management that made the Harz treetop path such a successful project; in the first 18 months we’ve welcomed 400,000 visitors instead of the 100,000 a year that we hoped for.
Looking back, I’d do it all just the same. We’re enormously grateful that the vision my husband and I had when we were working out the concept took shape one piece at a time, and that we can work for such a wonderful project every day and constantly get to know new people in all their diversity.
Treetop path in Bad Harzburg
- First treetop path in Niedersachsen
- Full disabled access in natural surroundings
- Opened in May 2015
- Around 250,000 visitors per year
- 15 staff