Posts tagged ‘treehouse’

October 20, 2010

First Energy-Efficient Tree House Community

An ‘Eden of Sorts,’ Finca Bellavista Blends into Costa Rican Rainforest

The treehouse platform

Treehouse platform for zip lines

Energy-efficient communities are popping up around the world; from Masdar, the first carbon-neutral city, near Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., to an off-the-grid treehouse enclave in the Costa Rican Jungle. There, just off the Pan-American Highway, a rocky path leads from the windy road up a mountain, winding into the rainforest.
“You can literally see the line where the rainforest begins, and that’s when you get to the community of Finca Bellavista, an Eden of sorts,” Matt Hogan says, driving a beat-up truck. Hogan, a former motocross racer, is co-founder of Finca Bellavista, the solar-powered tree house community he built from scratch with wife Erica after moving from Colorado and joining an environmental movement toward taking communities off strained electrical grids. “It’s a win-win; we’re protecting the environment and creating ‘green’ jobs building the infrastructure,” Hogan says of what’s billed as the world’s first modern, planned, sustainable tree house community.

It consists of about two dozen sky-high structures, with more than 40 other properties sold and planned for development. All told, there are about 80 two-acre lots, which have been selling fast, the founders say. The first stage of “pre-infrastructure” lots is sold out, they say, and there are six more in Phase Two, starting at $55,000 for a lot.

Among the amenities are running water, electricity, refrigeration, complete bathrooms, including a shower and head, and even Wi-Fi. And the tree houses that the Hogans built themselves are completely powered by the sun. The community of the Finca includes professionals working out of their tree houses, young families with kids and retirees — about 100 residents in all now, some full-time. Most of them are American or Canadian, but Costa Ricans have been looking as well, the Hogans say. The Hogans took out home-equity loans against their Colorado home to buy land from local owners who had been trying to sell it for timber. They then sold the parcels to community residents, using the proceeds to make improvements.
The first full-time resident was a Zen-like website manager from Canada who goes by the name Kevin. His tree house is known to have the best Wi-Fi on the Finca.

The Hogans were living in Crested Butte, Colo., four years ago when they decided to fly to Costa Rica in search of a surf-shack hideaway. Erica was a writer and editor at a local newspaper. Matt co-owned a company that made roofing tiles from recycled tires.Finding Inspiration in ‘Star Wars’
After taking a tour of a lot of secondary-growth rainforest in the mountainous Southern Zone of Costa Rica, advertised for potential timber logging, Erica Hogan suggested using the jungle to build an Ewok village in the trees, similar to the one on the moon of Endor in the film “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi.” The conversation could have ended there, but her husband liked the idea. “It’s funny, the Ewok village was only featured for a split second in ‘Star Wars: Return of the Jedi,’ but it left such a lasting impression there are few people who don’t know what the Ewok village is,” he says.

So Matt and Erica Hogan broke free from their commitments, followed through on their idealism and bought property in the tropical rainforests of Costa Rica.If they hadn’t, the forest may have been lost to loggers, something environmentalists say has happened to half the tropical forests in the world in the past century. The Hogans spent the next four years building their version of an energy-efficient community. And, today, the Finca is indeed what they had imagined, a community of off-the grid tree house dwellers, living with nature, with access to 300 acres of secondary-growth rainforest. It’s a place where everyone — including the resident star Kimbo, the half-blind bulldog — uses zip-lining as a primary means of transportation. They ride on cables, zipping between platforms that rise as high as 90 feet from the forest floor, soaring across the mountaintops and waterfalls.

“It’s a real source of transport,” Matt Hogan says, walking through the forest. “Even the building materials for the tree house are brought in via zip line.” There are already 23 lines up, with more in the works as the community grows toward a target population of 200 people.

September 28, 2010

The Only One of Its Kind

A new destination lodge in Japan offers communing with nature Eastern Style

Gankoyama Treehouse

I applaud Yoshinori Hiraga and his efforts to educate, inform and engage his people about communing with nature and learning more about Japan’s forest resources. One by one is the way to get people involved in a global effort to perserve this wonderful world we live in.

Chiba tree house village latest in eco-tourism
By Taro Fujimoto (reposted)

Forget about 5-star hotels. Try spending the night in a tree house. Not only is it fun but it offers a realistic way to practice “eco tourism” and “co-existence with nature” – phrases which are often bandied about in our daily conversation. Since 1998, Gankoyama Tree House Village has been providing people with the opportunity to think of nature and our modern life in terms of effective use of forest resources.

Gankoyama is located in the middle of the Boso Peninsula in Chiba, about two hours by car from central Tokyo. About 2,500 people a year visit the 12,000 square meters of the lower mountainous camping area to learn outdoor skills. Among the outdoor programs, the Tree House Master program, in which participants learn how to build tree houses in two days, has been the most popular, attracting lots of media attention. Every program requires reservations in advance. The tree house-building tour is the only one of its kind in the world. All of Gankoyama’s energy needs are provided by solar panels and a wind generator; no electricity is used.
In March, Gankoyama started to actively accept foreign visitors, launching its English-language website. Participants can enjoy the outdoor workshop skills for 8,000 yen and tree house building for 28,000 yen per person. Fees for families and groups are cheaper.

participants walking in the forest

The Walking Forest

“The primary purpose at Gankoyama is to provide people with an opportunity to think about the most effective use of forest resources in Japan,” says owner Yoshinori Hiraga, 49.

Hiraga, who was born in Tokyo and currently runs an air conditioning company in Yokohama, says he found the majority of mountains in Japan, which have been forested since the pre-modern era, neglected as a result of depopulation and an increase in imported cheaper wooden materials from abroad. “Since I used to play in the mountains when I was small, I wanted to revive forest resources. I just love mountains,” says Hiraga.

Learning how to co-exist with nature

Through the Tree House Master program, he wants participants to understand the fact that Japanese for a long time incorporated nature into their daily lives, including effective use of forests with regular maintenance, but they don’t do it so much anymore. Hiraga is hopeful that more Japanese will pay attention to their traditional concept of how to co-exist with nature. “Foreigners, especially those from Europe and the United States, are much more aware of effective use of forest resources and natural energy generation than Japanese.”
After operating Gankoyama for 10 years, Hiraga says he has learned that Japanese adults need someone’s help to enjoy themselves in nature. “Westerners enjoy themselves here as if they were kids. I just tell them the basic rules here in English and some gestures. They are usually happy on their own without us. If you need a tour guide, then you won’t enjoy yourself here.”
As an external member of a local city council for the environment and a guest invited by a non-governmental organization (NGO), he has visited the U.S. to research environmental policies around the world.

man climbing into a treehouse

climbing into a treehouse

“I think in Western countries, people have tried to artificially control nature. They tend to ‘do something in nature,’ which is how they enjoy themselves here,” said Hiraga. “In Japan, nature has always been a part of our life. Unfortunately, one of the reasons why Japanese are indifferent to nature now is that they take it for granted.”

He says the key phrase “sustainable life” is more familiar to Westerners than Japanese. “The majority of Japanese have no idea what that concept means.”

As a business, Gankoyama has been successful since its launch. The Japanese government approved Gankoyama as a good plan for effective use of forest resources. On weekends, people from all over the country visit and stay there. During the summer holiday season, Gankoyama is always full of visitors.

However, Hiraga recalls how he erred in his prediction for environment-related trends in Japan when he was launching Gankoyama in 1998: “I thought the so-called environment market would be much bigger in Japan. But in fact, the government and society shifted its focus to more monetary things, such as increase in exports and deregulation of financial markets. Everybody wanted to know how to make money. Now we see in many developed countries that environmental polices are becoming the top priority.”

‘Experience market’ for children

What helped Gankoyama’s success was the growing demand in the ‘experience market’ for children, Hiraga says. “Even if mothers don’t know the concept of ‘sustainable life,’ they know instinctively that children need experience in nature.” After children, foreigners in Japan are the second largest potential market.

“‘Eco’ is something existing in our daily life. Some philosophical trends like LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) and Slow Life have already come and gone and nobody talks about them anymore. Eco should mean ‘sustainable.’” Hiraga says he just wants more people to enjoy nature in the way that children used to play in the mountains in the past.

Hiraga is often asked to hold seminars nationwide. Sharp Corp, for example, donated its solar panels for solar power generation to Gankoyama and holds CSR (corporate social responsibility) seminars in Gankoyama. Hiraga says Gankoyama has proved it is a profitable business model to revive forests in Japan, and he hopes young people will launch similar businesses.

Spending almost all of his time in Gankoyama, Hiraga is dedicated to providing people with opportunities to think of how they can live with the nature. Those who know Hiraga say he is almost a kid when building the tree house.

September 8, 2010

Lucky Cool: Put the Acorns Down

August 25, 2010

Lawyer Builds Tree House Office

"" "Lon Levin"

Starting Contruction

If a lawyer has turned to building an office in the woods then you know we’re turning the corner on alternative lifestyles. And perhaps the smell and ambiance of the outdoors will seep into Richard Russeth’s brain and make his decision-making more humanistic than most of the lawyers I’m familiar with. It’s safe to say that Mr. Russeth is probably ahead of that curve anyway and I applaud him and wish him the joy and peace I’ve gotten from living in the mountains and trees.

Russeth, an avid collector of books about tree house architecture, is taking on his own endeavor: building a sophisticated tree-office nestled 20 feet high in a grove of 50- to 90-foot tall pine trees near his home in Evergreen, Colo. Russeth says tree house-building is in vogue, and that enthusiasts are constructing everything from single-room getaways to actual homes perched above ground.

"""Lon Levin"

Measuring decking

“Most people think it’s a cool idea and are jealous, as they’d like to have an office in a tree too,” Russeth said in an interview. “But I don’t think they realize how substantial it is just to build the foundation.” Aided by family, the 54-year-old Russeth constructed the 12-by-19-foot wooden platform that will serve as the office’s base last week. Future plans include a small house to accommodate his desk and a couch with large windows overlooking the mountains. The office will also have Wi-Fi and wireless phone lines, and perhaps a quaint wood-burning stove so that Russeth can easily conduct business as the vice president and general counsel of Leprino Foods during the spring and summer months.

Follow Russeth’s construction project on Twitter @Richard Russeth.