Treetop Fun

“I think we come hard-wired to spend time in trees,” says Bill Allen, founder of Forever Young Treehouses Inc., a 501(c)3 corporation created in 1998 for the explicit purpose of building universally accessible treehouses in every state by 2008. “I mean, have you ever tried to get a kid out of a tree?”

Are You Looking At Me?

It isn’t easy. There’s something magical about hanging your legs over the edge, enjoying the view and the gentle breeze as you sway back and forth, back and forth.

This magic is the central component in Allen’s business plan, which has afforded him the opportunity to build treehouses in 13 different states–the first one in his home state of Vermont and the latest in Pennyslvania–and name his company after a Bob Dylan song.

These magical treehouses, which Allen states are ADA-compliant, safe, unique, tree-respectful and budget-conscious, have now moved into the camp world. Here are the stories of two such camps and a park district…

Every Kid's Dream House

Camp Ta-Kum-Ta–Colchester, Vermont

“Camp Ta-Kum-Ta is a one-week-a-year, jam-packed magical happening,” its Web site states. Talk to Ted Kessler, the camp’s director, for five minutes and you know this is not just hype. From a prom night to daily themes that appear as if by magic in the morning–thanks to late nights by the 100 or so staff members–this camp provides a variety of once-in-a-lifetime events for children ages 7 to 17 who have or have had cancer. When the kids are at Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, they can forget their diagnoses and prognoses, and enjoy life to the fullest.

“We pick the kids up at the hospital and transport them to camp. No child is too sick to come to camp,” Kessler states emphatically.

The camp has a strictly enforced no-communication policy. As you can imagine, that can be a hard decision for the parents of a terminally ill child. “In the 23-year existence of Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, August is the only month we have never had a child pass away,” Kessler explains, which must offer some reassurance to parents. Allen and The Treehouse Foundation approached Kessler about building a treehouse for the camp. After a successful prototype, Allen was ready to start his mission with a project in his home state, and he was familiar with Kessler’s work at Camp Ta-Kum-Ta.

Allen’s foundation raised the funds and donated the treehouse. In 2001 the first campers were up in the trees.

The 600-square-foot treehouse, located 25 feet from the shores of Lake Champlain, feels much higher than its 11 feet in the air because of two 20-foot drop-offs between the treehouse and the shore. The treehouse is accessed by a 191-foot ramp that winds through the cluster of trees that supports it. Ten to 15 kids can sleep in the treehouse, and sometime during the week, most of the 70+ campers elect to spend a night in this magical place, where peace and beauty prevail in a different world.

“The kids love to just sit and listen and look at the water from the treehouse. It’s a special place to be when you’re feeling down or exhausted. The staff loves it too,” says Kessler.

The treehouse is also used for rainy-day programs, picnics and games … the uses are almost unlimited.

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