By Fred Obee

Triplicate editor

If all goes according to plan, tourists visiting the Trees of Mystery will be able to ride gondola cars through the forest to a vista platform.

Owners of the popular tourist attraction, located south of Crescent City on Highway 101, have applied for a use permit to install the gondola lift. John Thompson of the Trees of Mystery said hes excited about the possibilities.

Its looking fairly good but not certain by any means, Thompson said.

A public hearing before the Del Norte County Planning Commission is set for 7 p.m. Aug. 2 in the Board of Supervisors chambers at the Flynn Center. In addition to the Planning Commissions approval, Thompson said he will need some state permits before the project gets a green light and construction logistics need to be worked out.

Its a very complex project for us, Thompson said.

If those final hurdles can be cleared, Thompson said he envisions eight, six-passenger gondola cars operating on the lift. The cars will travel below the forest canopy to a nearby ridge approximately 570 feet above the starting platform.

Del Norte County Planner Jay Sarina said a review of the project by the Planning Department found the addition is consistent with the current use of the property.

Its pretty much just an enhancement of the Trees of Mystery tourist operation, Sarina said.

A field review of the site was conducted earlier this year to ensure the project does not harm endangered species, Sarina said.

Primarily, surveyors were looking for marbled murrelet and spotted owl habitat. The Planning Department determined the 76-acre Trees of Mystery property did not contain habitat for either species.

Its a harvested second growth forest, Sarina said, not old growth, the preferred habitat for the two birds.

Some old growth forest does exist to the southeast of the site, Sarina said, and the Planning Department determined some restrictions on the timing of construction would be adequate to protect birds who may be nesting nearby.

The use of helicopters during the breeding season is limited, and restrictions on lighting and noise are recommended, Sarina said.

The Planning Commission has the final decision on the project unless its determination is appealed.

If the Planning Commission approves the project, owners of the Trees of Mystery would like to move forward as expeditiously as possible, Sarina said.

As soon as he can get things lined up and scheduled, he would like to start, Sarina said.

Thompson said similar gondola car operations exist in other parts of the world, and are becoming popular at eco-tourism sites like the Trees of Mystery.