- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Austin Frankenfield is at home in the trees. The 6-year-old from Germantown frequents the property that his grandmother manages, Maple Tree Campground in nearby Gapland, which features eight treehouses for rent. He is looking forward to spending the night in the Eagle Treehouse with his cousins in the fall. It has a 70-foot maple tree going through its center.
"It feels like I'm sleeping in a forest," Austin says, as he hugs the tree inside the house. "I like it in treehouses better than a regular house. They're a lot cooler."
Treehouses are loved by children and adults alike. Whether simple or elaborate, they provide a sense of imagination and adventure. People can leave their troubles on the ground and enter a world of innocence and fun.
Dana Weedon, manager of Maple Tree Campground, says some fathers have camped out with their children in a treehouse for as long as two weeks. The treehouses were built by the camp owner, Phyllis Soroko, and her friends about 25 years ago. They rent for $32 to $80 a night.
"It's a novelty," Ms. Weedon says, referring to a treehouse. "It's back to basics."
Rather than sit inside all day in
front of the television, Thomas Daggett, 6, of Potomac says he likes to play games, such as cards, in his treehouse. His father, Steve, and family friend Ron O'Rourke of Northwest built the structure in the Daggetts' back yard in July 2001. The getaway, which is about 110 square feet and 6 feet off the ground, has a slide, a swing and a pulley to raise a bucket. Its elevated deck is attached to three oak trees, and large bolts anchor support beams into the trees.
"I have an idea of moving my bunk bed in the treehouse and spending the whole night up there," Thomas says. "I was planning to get it down by pushing it down the slide, but I'm not sure it will fit."
Although some people may boast about treehouses they have built in their back yards, the structures probably would pale in comparison to Michael Garnier's. Mr. Garnier, owner of Out 'n' About Treesort and Treehouse Institute in Cave Junction, Ore., says he designed a family vacation spot for those people who were reluctant to build their own treehouses.
His 10 creations include a pirate ship, which is suspended by cables and swings from the trees. He also built a Swiss Family Robinson "treeplex" with two treehouses attached to each other; it has one cabin for adults and one for children.
The tallest treehouse is called Treezebo and is about 37 feet off the ground. It is reached through a spiral staircase and two suspension bridges. The lowest treehouse, Serendipitree, is about 12 feet off the ground and reached by stairs.
Each treehouse is about 100 to 150 square feet, with the same level of craftsmanship that would appear in a finished home. Two of the structures have showers, and four have toilets.
Mr. Garnier also has built treehouses all over the world for clients, in places such as Live Oak, Fla., and Rocky Point, Mexico. He charges $40 an hour when working out of his home and $50 an hour when working on site, plus expenses.
"I like to build," he says. "I like trees. I've been able to make an income through it. I get to do something I enjoy to do."

Mr. Garnier says the first essential component of a treehouse is the tree. All treehouses are different because every tree is unique. One should walk around and inspect the potential trees that could support a structure.
Key characteristics include strength, long life and resistance to storm damage. Trees with diseased tissue where the trunk meets the ground and rotten heartwood that is exposed following lightning, freezing or drought damage should be avoided. The strongest limbs on trees are the ones that extend from the trunk at a 90-degree angle, which usually can be found on oaks, sycamores and tamaracks.
Mr. Garnier suggests consulting one's neighbors before erecting a structure in the treetops, to make sure they won't feel a sense of intrusion, especially if they can see it from their house or if it faces their back yard and windows. Occasionally, this may bring complaints from authorities.
"I never had a treehouse as a child," he says. "We had an apple orchard. I used to climb from tree to tree. I'm from the Midwest. We had forts, but not treehouses."
Pete Nelson, owner of PJ Construction of Fall City, Wash., and author of "The Treehouse Book," "Treehouses: The Art and Craft of Living Out on a Limb" and "Home Tree Home: Principles of Treehouse Construction and Other Tall Tales," says he has always been drawn to treehouses.
"When I was a kid, I had a couple of treehouses, nothing as grand as what I had in my head," he says. "The center of my daydreams were treehouses."
As an adult, Mr. Nelson has been able to make his dreams reality. He says many clients start by wanting simple children's treehouses, with fire poles, swings and slides, which cost about $7,000 to $15,000. However, sometimes the projects expand into more elaborate constructions, costing up to $300,000. Many of them have rope bridges, outlook points, bathrooms and electricity.
He builds about five full-scale treehouses a year, using oversized bolts to support the structures. He says this does not hurt the tree and they repair themselves around the bolts without problems. One bolt can hold about 9,000 pounds, which is equal to two pickup trucks.
"It's a return to days of innocence," Mr. Nelson says. "Nobody wants to grow up. The memories of your treehouse years are so fond."
Nathaniel Ross of Cape Cod, Mass., hired Mr. Nelson to build a treehouse for his mother, who wanted to overcome her fear of heights. The structure, which costs $40,000, is L-shaped, about 120 square feet and about 14 feet off the ground. It is bolted to three oak trees that surround it and rests on one bolt per tree. With its red cedar shingles, it was meant to be a miniature summer house, much like an old-fashioned cottage. There is no electricity or insulation in the treehouse. It has a futon that is used as a couch for visitors.
"I think it's a really cool thing to have as an addition to your property," Mr. Ross says. "It's a whimsical, ridiculous expense."

Daryl Coyle, of Ashton, now finds pleasure in the treehouse his children once enjoyed. Mr. Coyle created the house for his sons, Brad, 19, and Geoff, 15, about seven years ago. It is about 12 feet high and rests on posts that are steadied to the ground. The 5-foot-wide, 12-foot-long structure has two poplar trees that go through holes in its front deck. It has a rope ladder, a swing and monkey bars. It also contains four screened windows, and it is painted in a camouflage pattern to hide among the trees. One enters the treehouse by climbing a wooden ladder and opening the swinging door in its floor.
"My sons are more interested in chasing girls now," Mr. Coyle says. "They liked the thrill of being out there with animals but being protected. They would take lamps out there and tell ghost stories and be a couple yards away from mom and dad. Now my wife and I have some chairs up there. There is a little stream that goes right by it. It's all surrounded by trees in a big wooded area. It's in a beautiful part of the woods."
Jonathan Fairoaks, owner of Living Tree, a treehouse and tree-preservation company in Glenmore, Pa., says he tries to spread the word that treehouses are just as good an investment as recreational vehicles or cabins. Mr. Fairoaks, who is a certified arborist, has built treehouses in various places across the country as vacation spots.
"It brings out the essence of us," Mr. Fairoaks says, "the part of us we had as a child and lost as adults."

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