Sunday, May 06, 2012

Tree of Life - Fallen Branch and New Net "Tunnels"

A little bit more than a week ago, a branch fell off a tree at DAK. Not just any tree; the Tree of Life. The problem isn’t that this tree is the icon of the park. The problem is that this tree is artificial, and it’s not supposed to be falling apart. Certainly not for decades still. It was built to withstand hurricanes, and while it was windy a week ago, it was nothing out of the ordinary at all. And yet a five-pound branch came down and landed smack in the queue for It’s Tough to be a Bug. Fortunately, no one was hurt (I’m not even sure if the park was open at the time).

The park management team closed down the ride for several days while they scoured the tree and tried to figure out what happened. They made no public announcements about the incident or about the closure.


The attraction reopened last week with nets in place over the queue. In fact, visitors now navigate essentially a tunnel of nets as they get close to the tree. Since Disney has made no public announcement, it’s hard to know exactly what this means. Are the nets temporary or permanent? They certainly don’t look assembled TOO quickly, so perhaps they are meant to be permanent. 

The nets obviously send a message of caution, but perhaps it’s more than that. Their presence implies they don’t yet know what went wrong with the tree and can’t guarantee it won’t happen again—possibly with a fifty pound branch next time. That kind of weight can kill a person. 

So maybe we’re stuck with them for a while (maybe forever?) Only time will tell.

In the meantime, they’ve also placed a big plastic sheet over the waterfall near the tree entrance. Several of the queue and trails in the area are off-limits; there are big green walls to indicate the areas are now out of bounds. It looks like they wanted to route traffic only to those passageways which have net tunnels constructed over them.

When you’re walking through the net tunnels, it feels like a different place. Actually it kind of feels like Islands of Adventure, in the dinosaur playground of Jurassic Park. The vibe has changed.

On our visit on May 6, we were routed directly into the theater from the first cave. Normally, the queue goes through that cave (and under a waterfall), then emerges back out again and winds around a bit before coming to the “main” entrance of the theater, where a giant chimpanzee greets you. All of that was off-limits (possibly they are still building net tunnels?)

I don’t have any answers about an endgame here. Maybe these net tunnels ARE the endgame, and there will be no further changes. That would be unfortunate, especially since the off-limit areas feel so temporary right now.

The kids Discovery Center nearby is also closed, and behind walls.

The best solution, of course, would be for them to figure out how a branch came off in the first place, and engineer a solution so that no other branches come off.

And yes, the joke did cross my mind that perhaps the coming of Avatar has encouraged someone to start mining for Unobtainium under the Tree!!

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.