The Treetop Trail is reimagining what it means to visit the Minnesota Zoo. As the longest elevated pedestrian loop in the world, the 1.25-mile Treetop Trail brings guests up to 32 feet into the canopy, offering a breathtaking birds-eye view of the zoo and animals below. In addition to creating a sense of awe and wonder, it connects guests with nature and inspires action to save wildlife in Minnesota and around the world. The zoo has already named the new ambassador to the trail’s habitat: a North American porcupine named “Quillber.”
There are several “lookouts” along the trail, which serve as areas of interest in which zoo docents inform visitors about the area they’re in or animals they can see. These lookouts will also be used for small-scale musical performances through the zoo’s planned Music in the Trees program. Featuring a rotation of different musicians and styles, visitors will be able to listen to soothing melodies under the canopy on select Sunday afternoons. Powering the docent-led talks and musical performances along the trail are UBX Series loudspeakers from Renkus-Heinz.
The Treetop Trail is based on the zoo’s monorail track, which ceased operation in 2013 because the trains were outdated and would cost too much to renovate. Instead, zoo leadership saw an innovative opportunity to repurpose the track that would have otherwise been removed and scrapped. Plans to repurpose the old monorail began in 2018 with the ceremonial groundbreaking occurring in 2022.
Prior to breaking ground, zoo staff contacted the Texas-based True North Consulting Company (TNCG) to design the AV system for the walking path. Jiggs Lee, a senior consultant with TNCG, was responsible for recommending Renkus-Heinz’s solution to Jon Martin, True North’s Director of Design Services.
“The company turned to me because I have a lot of experience with loudspeakers and am familiar with the location and its environmental extremes,” said Lee. “Number one, we needed a loudspeaker that can function in Minnesota’s outdoor environment, which can get down to -25°F in the winter and triple digits in the summer because the trail will be open year-round. Secondly, we needed a loudspeaker with a wide horizontal dispersion that focused the sound on where people’s ears are instead of splashing it all over the place. My previous experience working with Renkus-Heinz’s loudspeakers made me think UBX would be the perfect fit.”
Under the watchful eye of Micah Ramsey – True North’s project manager – 18 UBX4 loudspeakers were installed at the lookouts along the trail, which range in size from 12 x 20 feet across where they bump out to 12 x 90 feet across. Many of the larger lookouts have built-in seating for visitors to sit and watch a presentation. The UBX4 features a compact, slender cabinet, making it easy to blend into an immersive environment like the Treetop Trail. However, it still delivers precise vertical pattern control and an unmatched combination of features for a loudspeaker of its size.
The award-winning UBX Series brings the precise coverage, high intelligibility and renowned sound quality of Renkus-Heinz’s flagship ICONYX loudspeakers into the realm of passive column arrays. New for the UBX Series is Passive UniBeam™ Technology which addresses each transducer with specially designed all-pass filter networks, gain shading and additional frequency filtering to generate an asymmetrical vertical dispersion with constant directivity, delivering consistent front-to-back coverage with minimal side lobe artifacts. All models in the UBX Series are weather-resistant (IP64) out of the box with the included gland nut-protected input cover. The included 70/100V transformer, wall-mount bracket and standard weather resistance make UBX loudspeakers simple to integrate into any system design, whether indoor or outdoor.
“I think the Treetop Trail is going to be an extraordinary addition to the Minnesota Zoo,” said Lee. “And even though the audio doesn’t play an equal role when compared to the visual grandeur of the animals and environment, I’m still really excited that Renkus-Heinz gets to play a role in that experience.”
Opened to the public in July 2023, zoo officials are also excited about the Treetop Trail, saying it will provide a new perspective on nature and the animals, which include tigers, moose and bison. “The Treetop Trail is such an important step in charting a new future for the zoo,” said Suzanne Gappa, co-chair of the Step Into Nature Campaign. “And our trail provides zoo guests access to nature like never before. We have a lot to look forward to!”