This fall, the Oakland Zoo will open a unique new gondola serving a 56-acre expansion called California Trail, enabling the zoo’s 750,000 annual visitors to enjoy two distinct complexes less than four minutes apart. It’s only logical that a ropeway system will serve exhibits on a summit featuring grizzly bears, mountain lions and gray wolves. By choosing to build a gondola, the zoo avoided the environmental impacts of roads, trails, and exhibits on steep slopes and won’t have to run higher-impact shuttle buses. Nik Dehejia, Oakland Zoo’s Chief Financial Officer notes, “the gondola system will be the first urban gondola of its size in Northern California and the second in the state. It will be an iconic feature for the Bay Area, drawing thousands from all over the region to Oakland.”
The detachable 8-passenger system is being built by Doppelmayr USA under general contractor Overra Construction. The gondola will feature 16 CWA Omega IV cabins and 7 towers that are up to 68 feet tall. Slope length of the lift is 1,780 feet with a vertical rise of 309 feet. The system will move up to 1,000 guests per hour/per direction initially with the option of adding 8 cabins to reach 1,500 per hour. Ride time will be a quick 3.95 minutes at an operating speed of 450 feet per minute.
Construction on the top terminal is largely complete with the visitor center going up around it. Work now shifts to the bottom terminal within the existing zoo. Cabins will arrive from Switzerland in April. The California Trail gondola will open sometime this fall, with the rest of the $61.5 million expansion following in 2018. The Oakland Zoo is owned by the City of Oakland and operated by the non-profit East Bay Zoological Society. California Trail is being paid for with a mix of public and private funds.
I like this project because it smartly applies ropeway technology to connect two points while creating an exceptional attraction all its own. For an organization whose primary mission is conservation, the gondola provides efficient and clean transportation powered by electricity. In fact, the terrain underneath the gondola line will be designated an Ecological Recovery Zone with no public access and cabins flying nearly silently overhead. I hope California Trail is the first among a new generation of gondolas making connections in American cities.