Our Classroom in the Trees – Building the Barrier Free Treehouse
With its 383 acres of rolling terrain and walking trails, ponds and wetlands full of life, and more than 150 species of trees and shrubs, For-Mar Nature Preserve & Arboretum is a popular year-round destination.
The Visitor’s Center is home to live plants and animals and several displays so you can learn about the world around you before you venture out into it. There’s even a demonstration bee hive so you can safely watch our busy pollinators from only inches away, a Truck Farm that demonstrates how to grow food, and friendly staff to help you experience the out-of-doors in exciting ways. Still, we wondered… was there something we could add so you could explore nature from a new perspective?
Then, in 2013, we visited the treehouse at Pin River Nature Center in Goodles, Michigan, and we knew we wanted a treehouse at For-Mar, too!
Making the Case For a Treehouse
For-Mar Naturalist Nicole Ferguson encouraged some of her Wild Adventurers students to pitch the idea to the Genesee County Parks Commission by developing a video presentation similar to those seen on Shark Tank.
The students were stars, and the idea was a hit! We created a treehouse fund to make it a reality. Meanwhile, Nicole sent the students’ video to Pete Nelson, the Treehouse Master on Animal Planet, hoping he would love the plan as much as we did. But we heard nothing back.
Late in 2015, we had enough in the fund to begin our treehouse plan. Then, in March of 2016, Nancy Edwards, our recreation, programs and grants officer, got a phone call that changed everything. A member of Pete’s company, Nelson Treehouse and Supply in Washington, asked if we were still interested in having a treehouse built, because if we were, they would take on the project!
A Site and a Plan
Pete Nelson himself came to For-Mar to take a look, on a cold and rainy day in early spring. But after consulting with the trees – and his crew – he loved the site we proposed.
We told him we wanted our treehouse to have an accessible ramp, so everyone, even those using a wheelchair or walker, could experience it. It had to have electricity and hold 30 students and an instructor, and be comfortable for near year-round use.
The treehouse would also be headquarters for the Preservers, the Nature’s Superheroes that Genesee County Parks visitors have come to know.
The Treehouse team took all that into consideration, and Pete and his crew came up with a spectacular plan—both functional and beautiful.
Flint Welcomes the Treehouse Masters Crew
When construction began, the building crew was accompanied by video and production staff from Animal Planet. WOW! Our treehouse was going to be an episode on the much-loved Treehouse Masters show.
The building process took about a month, which gave the crew time to enjoy the Goldenrod Disc Golf Course and visit local businesses such as Flint City T-Shirts and the White Horse. Pete and his wife even attended our full staff picnic during the summer at Crossroads Village, even though it was their wedding anniversary!
They loved the hospitality and enthusiasm of everyone who stopped by to watch them and were happily surprised by the unexpected collaboration. Our maintenance staff helped build part of the ramp. Local residents often brought food for them, and the Burton City Building Inspector made sure all the plans and permits were approved quickly. They even arranged for a perfect cake replica of the treehouse made by Tasty Layers Custom Cakes for the treehouse reveal party.
During the building process, the crew wouldn’t allow Parks Director, Amy McMillan, or For-Mar Naturalist, Nicole Ferguson, to see the treehouse because the filming crew wanted honest and true expressions the first time they saw the completed project. What they didn’t get to see is the quick progression from empty trees, to some holes in the ground quickly to a platform and then walls going up in a matter of days. Many of the pieces are pre-fabricated in the nelson Treehouse Supply shop and shipped to the job site where they are assembled high in the trees. Artist Jason Hulfish from Tampa, FL hand created fantastic representations of the Preservers to hang inside the treehouse.
In August, we officially opened the treehouse doors with a filmed reveal to almost 100 people! Since then the treehouse has house naturalist programs for kids, birthday parties, field trips and just individual visits.
Our Classroom in the Trees
Perched about 30 feet above the Kearsley Creek oxbow, the treehouse is nestled among black cherry, red and white oaks, basswood and bitternut hickory trees. Already, more than 30,000 visitors have made the easy trek up the treehouse stairs or the gently-inclined ramp to experience For-Mar from new heights.
Inside you’ll find colorful seating areas and all kinds of equipment and supplies that make it the perfect up-in-the trees classroom for kids and adults. It is truly a dream come true. Check out the schedule of programs and come visit!
To read the behind the scenes blog from Nelson Treehouse and Supply here: https://www.nelsontreehouse.com/season-8-episodes/2017/1/10/nature-hq-at-for-mar-nature-preserve