By Julia Shipley
I wondered how the world’s first universally accessible treehouse could finesse an entrance that a wheelchair might roll in on, while still maintaining the secluded feel of a hideaway tucked up amid branches and leaves. Turns out the Forever Young Treehouse perched in South Burlington, Vt., has all the character of a great backyard fort, including the feel of being concealed in the woods, of hovering 15 feet above the ground, of sharing intimate territory with birds and squirrels — all this plus easy access along a level walkway less than 50 feet from the Oakledge Park parking lot.
Designed and built in 2004 by the Tree House Guys, a team of craftsmen based in Waitsfield, Vt., this mid-air edifice is one of a half-dozen wheelchair accessible treehouses they’ve erected across the county, from Charles Wilson Park in Torrance, Calif., to Citizen’s Park in Barrington, Ill., to Nay Aug Park in Scranton, Pa., to Warrior’s Path State Park in Kingsport, Tenn.
Here, at Oakledge Park, Tree House Guys Chris Haake and James Roth utilized this park’s natural features — a stout red oak growing below an outcrop of ledge. They constructed a broad wooden pier leading from the ledge into the oak, allowing visitors to coast aboard the 500-square-foot platform hovering near the tree’s upper boughs. This tin roofed porch-house has a whimsical, Dr. Seussean feel — all that’s missing is a crooked twist of stovepipe. And if perchance a Cat in the Hat were to scurry by, anyone sheltered in this haven you’re never too old for would have the best view of all.
Julia Shipley is an independent journalist, poet and small farmer in northern Vermont.