Many children dream of escaping the cares of the world by climbing into a tree house. But for a child or adult with mobility needs, such as those using wheelchairs, such a climb may normally prove out of reach.
The guys from the tree house, LLC, a company in Warren, Vermont, decided to change that by designing treehouses with ramps that allow access by many means, including foot and wheelchair.
And one is ready to open in Burlington.
The city will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 19 at 1 p.m. at the Treehouse, located in Simonds Parknear the Common of the City.
This is the treehouse the company designed for a city park in Massachusetts, and the second in New England, the first being in Burlington, Vermont.
Here’s what to know about the tree house and the dream behind the design.
How did the idea for the treehouse come about?
The idea was born about five years ago, with Kelly Lehman, program coordinator for Burlington Parks and Recreationin collaboration with the Marshall Simonds Trust, which funds several projects in the city.
Director of Parks and Recreation Brendan Egan said Joshua Simonds, an administrator, lives in Vermont and saw the treehouse in Burlington. “He gave us the information for the builders there,” Egan said.
Construction began the week of September 8 and was completed in early November. Egan said the flurry of good weather helped keep the completion schedule on schedule.
How is the treehouse project funded?
The total cost of the project is $225,000, Egan said.
A year ago, the children of fire Gordon Gillingham, and Nancy Gillingham, a longtime Parks and Recreation staff member, donated $100,000 in memory of his parents. The Simonds Trust provided a total of $136,000, in disbursements in 2021 and 2022.
“We have enough to cover the costs of the treehouse. None of this comes from taxpayers, all privately funded, made up of the two donations,” Egan said. Donations include enough money to add features, such as benches, Egan said.
How is the tree house built?
Egan said, “The great thing about the treehouse is that it’s 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 up to the octagonal treehouse.
The tree house measures 16 feet in diameter and 12 feet from floor to ceiling. The treehouse sits about 12 feet above the ground.
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On the way to the top are three landings, located at different angles. The construction, including the dimensions and the slope of the ramps, is done in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, says Egan.
“There are three different landings where you can look into the woods and look over the skate park and the pickleball court,” Egan said. “They used oak trees on the site to anchor the tree house at the top. In the middle of the bridges, going up, you have live trees in the middle of the landing. You can explore the trees, 8 feet off the ground.”
Visitors can access the treehouse from a paved, accessible path leading from the nearby parking lot.
What materials were used in the construction of the treehouse?
Egan said the treehouse’s support posts are helical piles, extruded steel shafts. “They used black locust for the porch, the most naturally rot-resistant wood. Most of the treehouse is pressure treated.”
Egan added: “There are pine supports which are 16ft beams that they cut to make the roof truss. 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 the ways to enjoy the treehouse?
“Ramps and decks are a great place to read a book and relax, and let yourself or your children explore by seeing trees at different heights, and near trees with leaves, oak and pine,” said Egan said. “It’s just a good opportunity to be in nature and explore.”
Program staff at Burlington Parks and Recreation will explore the possibilities of nature and arts exploration programs. “Or natural exploratory programs to use the treehouse as an open classroom space. Those are all things planned for that for the future,” Egan said.
How will the community celebrate the opening of the treehouse?
A grand opening is scheduled for November 19 at 1 p.m., with a grand opening and presentation set for 1:30 p.m. there will be fireworks. People will be able to enjoy it from the Town Common,” Egan said.
What is the purpose of accessible treehouses?
James B’fer Roth, designer and builder at The Treehouse Guys, said the treehouse in Burlington Vermont was the first the company has built in a public park.
The company has built accessible treehouses in public parks across the United States, including Cincinnati and Torrance, California.
The company has also built treehouses on private sites, including crystal springs, which offers programs for children and adults with intellectual, medical, behavioral and visual disabilities, in Assonet, a village in Freetown.
“When you’re in a public park, anyone can go there,” Roth said. “Anyone can climb trees. Public parks are great. That’s when you say it’s universally accessible.”
Roth said: “It’s available for all abilities, which is great too. What’s nice is that it allows people with and without disabilities to mix. When I was a kid it was very separate.”
At the treehouse, Roth said. “It’s a great place where an able-bodied child may never have met someone in a wheelchair.”
Are there other accessible treehouses in the area?
“When you arrive at the treehouse, you’re 19 feet in the air,” said Ann Sgarzi, director of marketing for Discovery Museums.
The universal design allows the same entry 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 said they’ve never even been to a treehouse.”
Admission to the indoor and outdoor campus, including the treehouse, is $15.50 for adults and children over one year old, $14.50 for seniors and children under one year and for teachers. Discovery Museums offers free and discounted events, such as Free Friday Nights and $1 admission to Electronic Benefit Transfer or EBT and Women, infants and children or WIC cardholders, allowing up to five additional guests.
The museum requires advance reservations; visitors don’t have to pay until they arrive.