Hear the word “treehouse” and you may picture kids perched in a tall oak, inside a patchwork fort of construction scraps, crudely nailed together. Maybe a rope ladder dangling from the trap door. Well… a new – ahem – cottage industry has emerged, which puts a grown-up spin to this childhood refuge. ideastream’s Brian Bull reports on one Ohio entrepreneur’s foray into recreational treehouses…
50-year-old Kevin Mooney doesn’t miss working as a financial advisor.
The hours were long, the travel constant. On this rainy summer day, gazing out at the Mohican Wilderness near the Knox County town of Glenmont, Mooney says the woods is the only place he finds real peace.
“There’s something about being out here, I enjoy much more here, hearing the birds, rather than sit on a highway,” he says.
Since quitting his advising job, he’s spent the last eight years growing Mohican Cabins.
It’s almost typical….a spring, summer and fall, back-to-nature getaway, with conference and wedding facilities….except that two cabins, rather than being nestled within the trees, are…actually in the trees.
The Brice Family from Columbia Station is checking in. They walk onto the first treehouse's balcony.
“Wow…” exclaim Lisa and Debbie Brice in unison.
“This is neat!" adds their father, David.
“Oh my goodness gracious….” fawns Linda, the girls' mom and David's wife.
Lisa and Debbie Brice brought their parents here for their 42nd wedding anniversary.
“Okay, here we go…” says Mooney, opening the door to their treehouse cabin.
Linda Brice marvels at the rustic accomodations 25 feet off the ground. Rouhgly half a dozen trees support the 300-sq. ft. lodging, which sports satellite TV, air conditioning, and a kitchen.
“This is absolutely amazing. I...I...I couldn’t even envision…when they were talking about a treehouse, I had no concept.”
Mooney plays tour guide.
“The floor is made of seven species of wood. We took down a barn, and made these kitchen cabinets out of it," says Mooney, pointing to the interior.
“It’s got the comforts of home, it is so cozy, it smells good…it’s like….we’re just here to find peace,” says Linda Brice.
"A far cry from the treehouses that anyone else probably stayed in as a kid," I remark.
“Well, yeah, yeah!" she laughs. "That was just a flat board, right?"
It’s recapturing one’s childhood that draws people to treehouses, says Mohican Cabins’ co-owner Laura Mooney. She also says there’s something primordial at work.
“Animals escape up into trees for safety, and I know that humans throughout history have escaped to the trees," explains Mooney. "A safety factor, a calmness…despite the fact that you’re 30 feet up.”
800 yards away, Mooney’s Amish work crew builds a second treehouse. Safety is a top priority for Mooney and his fellow builders. The federal government doesn’t regulate treehouses, so caution is key.
“Building in the trees is potentially hazardous," says Pete Nelson. He's the treehouse builder who inspired the Mooneys, the star of a new Animal Planet reality show, “Treehouse Masters”.
Nelson’s Washington-based company has designed more than 100 treehouses in the U.S. He says without regulations, treehouses are "very much an underground thing."
"My greatest fear right now, is that people – they see these things that we’re building on TV, and charge off into the trees, without doing good research, and hurt themselves or the trees.”
Nelson and other tradesmen have joined the International Treehouse Association, started by Kevin Mooney. They critique plans and offer advice on surveying the right kinds of trees, as well as the best hardware…based on the most up-to-date technology.
Back at Mooney’s resort, the Brice Family settle into their treehouse…sort of.
"Debbie and I are afraid of heights,” Mrs. Brice confesses.
"Good thing you’re in a treehouse," I say.
"I know, right? I’m not looking over the edge, if you’ve noticed,” laughs Debbie.
Mooney’s grand plan is to create a vast treehouse village. He joins nearly two dozen treehouse resorts and hotels that have sprouted worldwide in recent years.
These range from rustic bamboo huts in India, to luxury suites on stilts in California…complete with fireplaces and hot tubs.