Introducing Treehouse Village

By Scott Carpenter

Enticing people to go outside on a March morning with temperatures hovering around freezing is not unheard of at Metroparks Toledo in Ohio. Attracting nearly 2,500 people to traipse through a muddy construction site in the woods in late winter, however, was a first.

Photo: Alex Goetz

Photo: Alex Goetz

Participants in what turned out to be the largest Instagram Meetup in Ohio were drawn to something else that had not been done before—a treehouse village being built in the region’s largest park. Within days of the Meetup, photos with the hashtag #cannaleytreehousevillage had reached more than 1.5-million people on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

It was the buzz that marketing director Matt Killam was hoping for when he organized the event with the local visitor and convention bureau, Destination Toledo. “It goes to show the amount of excitement this project has generated,” he says. “Now, word is spreading exponentially.”

At the time, none of the five treehouses that will make up the village was completed. And while opening day is still months away, it appears that the regional park system is on its way to achieving the goals of “capturing people’s imagination, getting them outdoors, and creating lifelong memories in nature,” Killam says.

Oak Openings Preserve, where the Cannaley Treehouse Village is taking shape, is the largest of the district’s 16 parks, spanning nearly 5,000 acres. It is part of a corridor connecting five Metroparks and three state nature preserves, protecting globally rare habitats of more rare and endangered plants than any place else in the state.

Photo: Mary Pencheff

Photo: Mary Pencheff

A Hub For Outdoor Skills
Oak Openings already offers two campgrounds, two cottages, and two lakes for fishing and kayaking, as well as trails for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding.

The treehouses occupy about 1.3 acres of a recent 500-acre expansion of the park. Called the Beach Ridge Area, the addition is also home to the majority of a 12-mile singletrack trail built by mountain bikers, for mountain bikers. More than 2,000 hours of volunteer time went into creating the challenging course, which drew 60,000 cyclists last year.

A bicycle-themed gathering space named The Wheelhouse, where restrooms and showers are located with a bicycle skills-development course, will also be part of what Killam envisions as “the hub for outdoor skills in northwest Ohio.”

By creating memorable outdoor experiences, Metroparks is furthering its mission to conserve the region’s natural resources and connect people with those resources, notes Emily Ziegler, director of planning and capital projects for the park district.

“We strongly believe that people value what they experience, and the Treehouse Village will provide a compelling new way for people to connect with the outdoors,” she says.

The development will consist of a large common treehouse that can accommodate 49 people for gatherings, plus a six-person, four-person, and a pair of two-person treehouses that will be available for overnight stays starting early next year. Three platforms will also be available for tent or hammock camping in the trees.

Nelson Treehouse and Supply, the company featured in the Animal Planet TV show Treehouse Masters, designed the treehouses. A team from Nelson spent two weeks last September working alongside and training members of the Metroparks construction crew.

“Building a treehouse village was something we had dreamt about for years,” Ziegler says. “We were familiar with Treehouse Masters’ ‘whimsy’ designs and also their proprietary hardware used to safely attach and support the platforms while allowing for growth and sway of the trees. When the time was right, we contacted them via their online questionnaire, and the rest is history!”

Partnerships Made It Possible
When the project was announced last fall, so was the formation of the Metroparks Toledo Foundation, with an initial goal of raising $1.5 million from philanthropic giving to cover the entire cost of the treehouses.

With a lead gift of $750,000 from Linda Cannaley, who sold the land to Metroparks to create the Beach Ridge Area, the foundation raised the balance of the amount in six months, including several significant in-kind contributions. For example, Owens Corning donated the roofing and insulation materials, and Therma-Tru donated the entry doors. Both companies are headquartered in the region. Another company, RMF Nooter, is supplying electricians to wire the entire complex.

Partnerships—from construction to marketing, volunteers, and individual donors—made the project possible, says Ally Effler, director of philanthropy for Metroparks Toledo. “Our staff had the ideas and the skills to make it happen, but community involvement breathed life into it,” she says. “This will be a project that the whole community can feel proud of.”

“I’ve never been more inspired by a project. It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of,” adds Carrie Alexander, a member of the foundation board as well as a donor and volunteer fundraiser for the campaign.

Revenue from rentals will pay for the operational costs of the treehouses, as well as outreach efforts to engage the community, says Dave Zenk, executive director of Metroparks Toledo. “One way we’ll do that is by keeping the common treehouse available at least 25 percent of the time for public programs, giving everyone the opportunity to experience it,” he says.

A Regional Reputation
Zenk adds that the treehouses are part of an effort by the park system to enhance the region’s reputation.

“In recent years, we have added many compelling new ways for people to connect with the out-of-doors, from new parks and trails to a 3D archery course and camping on a Maumee River island,” Zenk says. “These experiences, along with the Treehouse Village, add to our region’s growing reputation as a great place to live, work, and play.”

Those efforts are beginning to pay off, with Toledo appearing on several lists of best places, such as a No. 2 ranking on a U.S. News and World Report list of “best places to live if you love the outdoors.” More recently, a Columbus, Ohio-based blog circulated an article on social media with the headline, “Toledo is getting a super-cool treehouse village and we’re incredibly jealous.”

“We have a story to tell about our region,” Zenk says. “It’s projects like these that give us the opportunity to grab some attention and hopefully convince people to take a second look at the incomparable natural resources and quality-of-life amenities our region has to offer.”

Scott Carpenter is director of public relations for Metroparks Toledo. You can reach him at scott.carpenter@metroparkstoledo.com.