Many a child dreams of escaping the world's cares by climbing into a treehouse. But for a child or adult with mobility needs, such as those who use wheelchairs, such a climb might normally prove out of reach.
The Treehouse Guys, LLC, a company in Warren, Vermont, set out to change that, designing treehouses with ramps allowing access by many means, including by foot and wheelchair.
And one is set to open in Burlington.
The town will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony Nov. 19, 1 p.m. at the treehouse, located in Simonds Park, near the Town Common.
The project is tracked on the company's Facebook and Instagram accounts.
It's the treehouse designed by the company for a municipal park in Massachusetts, and the second in New England, the first being in Burlington, Vermont.
Here's what to know about the treehouse, and the dream behind the design.
How the idea for the treehouse began?
The idea originated about five years ago, with Kelly Lehman, programs coordinator for Burlington Parks and Recreation, in cooperation with the Marshall Simonds Trust, which funds several projects in the town.
Parks and Recreation Director Brendan Egan said Joshua Simonds, a trustee, lives in Vermont, and saw the treehouse there in Burlington. "He got us the info for the builders up there," said Egan.
Construction began the week of Sept. 8, and finished up in early November. Egan said the spate of good weather helped in the completion timeline.
How is the treehouse project funded?
The project's total cost is $225,000, Egan said.
A year ago, the children of the late Gordon Gillingham, and Natalie Gillingham, a longtime Parks and Recreation staff member, made a donation of $100,000 in their parents' memory. The Simonds Trust has provided a total of $136,000, in disbursements in 2021 and 2022.
"We have enough to cover the costs from the treehouse. None of it came from the taxpayers, all privately funded, made up of the two donations," Egan said. The donations include enough money to add features, such as benches, Egan said.
How is the treehouse constructed?
Egan said, "The great thing about the treehouse is that it is a universally accessible treehouse." Egan said a series of four railing-lined ramps, about 5 feet wide and ranging from 16 to 20 feet in length, lead to the octagonally-shaped treehouse.
The treehouse is 16 feet in diameter, and 12 feet from floor to ceiling. The treehouse stands about 12 feet above the ground.
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On the way to the top are three landings, situated at different angles. The construction, including the dimensions and grade of the ramps, is done in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Egan said.
"There are three different landings where you can look out into the woods, and look over the skate park, and pickleball court," said Egan. "They used oak trees on the site to anchor the treehouse on the top. In the middle of the decks, going up, you have live trees in the middle of the landing. You can explore the trees, 8 feet off the ground."
Visitors can get to the treehouse from a paved, accessible path leading from the nearby parking lot.
What materials were used in the treehouse construction?
Egan said the treehouse support posts are helical piles, shafts extruded from steel. "They used black locust for the porch, the most naturally rot-resistant wood. Most of the treehouse is pressure-treated."
Egan added, "There are some pine supports that are 16-foot beams that they cut to make the truss for the roof. They use pressure-treated lumber for the supports under the decking, and then there is a black metal standing seam roof on top of the treehouse."
What are some ways to enjoy the treehouse?
"The ramps and decks are a great place to just read a book and relax, and let yourself or your kids explore seeing trees at different heights, and up by the trees with leaves, oak and pine, " Egan said. "It's just a good opportunity to be in nature, and to explore."
Burlington Parks and Recreation programming staff will explore the possibilities of nature and arts exploratory programs. "Or natural exploratory programs to utilize the treehouse as an open classroom space. Those are all things planned for this for the future," Egan said.
How will the community celebrate the treehouse's opening?
A grand opening is planned for Nov. 19, 1 p.m., with a ribbon-cutting and presentation set at 1:30 p.m. "People will be able to get a pass for tours at 1:30 p.m., and will go to 5 p.m. At 6 p.m., there will be fireworks. People can enjoy them from the Town Common," said Egan.
What is the goal of accessible treehouses?
James B'fer Roth, designer and builder at The Treehouse Guys, said the treehouse in Burlington Vermont was the first one the company built in a public park.
The company has built accessible treehouses in public parks throughout the U.S., including in Cincinnati, and Torrance, California.
The company has also built treehouses at private locations, including at Crystal Springs, which offers programming for children and adults with intellectual, medical, behavioral and visual disabilities, in Assonet, a village in Freetown.
"When you are in a public park, everyone gets to go," said Roth. "Everyone gets to go up in the trees. The public parks are great. It's when you say, it's universally accessible."
Roth said, "It's available to all abilities, which is great also. The nice thing is that it enables people with or without disabilities to comingle. When I was a kid, it was very separated."
At the treehouse, Roth said. "This is a great place where a kid who is able bodied maybe has never met anyone in a wheelchair."
Are there other accessible treehouses in the area?
The Treehouse Guys company also built the Discovery Treehouse at The Discovery Museums in Acton, part of the museums' Discovery Woods outdoor programming.
"When you get to the treehouse, you are 19 feet in the air," said Ann Sgarzi, the Discovery Museums' director of marketing.
The universal design allows the same entrance for people of all abilities, rather than separate access points.
For some visitors, accessibility has led to new experiences. Sgarzi said, "We've had adults who've said they've never even been in a treehouse."
Admission to the indoor and outdoor campus, including the treehouse, is $15.50 for adults and children over 1, $14.50 for seniors, and free children under 1 and for teachers. The Discovery Museums offers free and discounted events, such as Free Friday Nights, and $1 admission for Electronic Benefits Transfer or EBT and Women, Infants and Children or WIC cardholders, which allows up to five additional guests.
The museum requires advance reservations; visitors do not have to pay until they arrive.