We all love an innovative engineering project and nothing dresses those projects up better than strings of colorful Christmas lights. Hey, it is December, after all, and Christmas will soon be upon us.
Less than two years ago the North Vancouver, B.C., Capilano Suspension Bridge Park opened a true engineering attraction by offering The Cliffwalk, a $3 million 20-in-wide bridge with a galvanized steel walkway all cantilevered up to 20 ft away from a granite canyon wall. And, oh, the entire apparatus hangs about 300 ft above a rushing river in the canyon’s floor.
The attraction adds to the more than 100-year-old, 450-ft-long main suspension bridge and the Treetops Adventure portion of the park that invites visitors to go vertical and into the forested site.
Each Christmas, as an obvious way to boost foot traffic at the park in the winter months, the wooded attraction comes alive with hundreds of thousands of lights, across the treetops, suspension bridge and, most recently, even the Cliffwalk. Dubbed Canyon Lights, the attraction draws thousands of new visitors to the park. And while the park simply wants people to enjoy their offerings, spend money and help the support the business model, the festive dressing up of the Cliffwalk helps to do something else: show engineering in a new light (corny pun fully intended).
The general public may have grown accustomed to seeing impressive engineering in the forms that engineers pull off in architecturally forward buildings or, even more noticeably to the masses, the fanciest of our largest bridges. But those applications aren’t all that common. Getting folks to tour and marvel over the intricate details of the engineering accomplishments of the Cliffwalk puts engineering in a fresh perspective, whether you are looking down through the glass-bottom walkway or not.
In a recent ENR cover article, magazine editors and writers—including myself—discussed the importance of education in relations to the healthy future of engineering. One prominent engineer and a host of educators told me that simply introducing students to the real-life examples of engineering was a key component in educating students about the field and getting them excited about what was possible. The Cliffwalk certainly fits that bill. And if dressing it up in Christmas lights helps that cause even more, then light it up.
Tim Newcomb covers the Pacific Northwest for Engineers News-Record. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.