Accessible Treehouses Help People With Disabilities Branch Out

    A ramp leading up to an accessible treehouse.

    A ramp leading up to an accessible treehouse.

    The texture of wood, the smell of fresh air, the bright green of the leaves—treehouses are an exciting way to experience the simple joys of nature.  Although the end result provides a wonderful experience, the idea of building a treehouse, especially one that is universally accessible, may seem more like a dream than a possibility. Forever Young Treehouses, however, is working to make those dreams become realities.

    Forever Young hopes to construct an accessible treehouse in every state, recognizing treehouses as an important place that gives all people the opportunity to play, enjoy life, and come together. 

    Forever Young, based in Vermont, not only designs and builds treehouses, but also helps manage volunteers and donations, fundraise, market and budget.  According to their website, they work closely with the key stakeholders involved in your universally accessible treehouse to teach them time-tested methods on how to recruit businesses, nonprofit organizations and members of the community to support the entire project. 

    Pennsylvania is already home to three treehouses that Forever Young played a role in building.

    Camp Victory, a day camp for children with chronic illness and physical and intellectual disabilities in Millville, Pa., worked with Forever Young to create a unique and popular treehouse.

    “We went to Connecticut to see a universally accessible treehouse and fell in love with it.   We thought it would be wonderful for our campers, especially individuals using wheelchairs, to be able to experience a treehouse,” Jamie Huntley, executive director of Camp Victory explained.

    Children gather in an accessible treehouse for fun outdoor activities!

    Children gather in an accessible treehouse for fun outdoor activities!

    The project was funded by West Pharmaceutical Services, whose employees also built most of the treehouse.  “Once the funding was taken care of, it all went smoothly and was a very easy project.  It was finished in a little over two months,” Huntley said.

    Universally accessible treehouses, like the one at Camp Victory, generally feature wooden ramps to provide access for people who use wheelchairs.  Camp Victory is home to 31 different day camps that all use the treehouse and have children with a variety of disabilities, including diabetes, autism, cancer, spina bifida, skin disorders, arthritis and many more.

    Forever Young also helped with the design and building of The Lookout Loft, which is one of three treehouses in Longwood Gardens of Kennett Square and is fully compliable with the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Nay Aug Park’s David Wenzel Treehouse in Scranton is another Forever Young collaboration.  Opened in 2007, the treehouse overlooks the nearby gorge and sits 150 feet above the valley.  It was named after the town’s former mayor, who lost both legs and his left hand in the Vietnam War. He worked hard to make both Scranton and the nation more accessible.

    “If you want to start this kind of project, go for it!” Huntley encouraged.  “We have had our treehouse for four years and it is used for so many different things.  Kids sleep overnight in it, drum circles echo in it, and art, nature and music activities are held in it!”

    Building a universally accessible treehouse is definitely a feasible and worthwhile project for anyone, whether a camp, community or organization.  “The most rewarding part is seeing the faces of the kids as they are able to go up the ramp for the first time,” Huntley concluded.  “It’s a wonderful experience!”

    If building or visiting an accessible treehouse is your idea of Living Well, contact Living Well With A Disability at 1-877-TO-LIV-WELL, 1-877-865-4893 or visit www.livingwellwithadisability.org.

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