Like comic books, tree houses are something you're supposed to outgrow. Bill Allen never did. The 44-year-old financial adviser kept reading about them, wishing handicapped children could enjoy them along with everyone else. So in 2001, he and Phil Trabulsy cofounded the nonprofit Forever Young Treehouses, designed to be wheelchair accessible. Their first community-wide tree house opened this fall at a lakeside park in Burlington, Vt.
At its dedication, Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle called it a work of art. A 100-foot ramp with rough-hewn railings leads to a circular deck. Overhead is a copper roof with a white oak growing out of its middle. Children swarm to it, and the views are so sublime that Clavelle is considering holding City Council meetings there. Some $25,000 of the $130,000 price tag came from city coffers. ''It's a fabulous place to come," Allen said. ''You think differently in a tree house. You're a little humbled by it."
Forever Young has built eight treehouses in all, the largest at Paul Newman's Ashford, Conn., camp for children fighting cancer, The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Joining 23 trees, its ramp is 340 feet long with 11 rest stations. So far, Burlington's is the only tree house that is publicly owned. To see it, take Route 7 north into South Burlington, turn left onto Flynn Avenue, and follow it to the end. Drive to Oakledge Park's farthest parking area, then take the gravel path.
While in Vermont, why not spend the night in a tree? For $150 per night ($750 per week), you can stay in Chip Milne's propane-heated tree house built on seven trees near Marshfield. Only 10 feet from the ground, the windows look out onto the surrounding woods, but you don't lack for creature comforts. There's a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom with a full shower, and satellite TV. The upstairs loft has a double bed.
If it's a bird's-eye view you're after and you're out West anyway, head for Washington state. The Cedar Creek Treehouse near Ashford is one of the world's best: a two-level, 16-foot-square cottage clinging to a giant cedar some 50 feet above the forest floor. It has a kitchen, a dining area, a bathroom, an observation area, skylights, and spectacular views of Mount Rainier and surrounding peaks. It's $250 per night. Call 360-569-2991, or go to www.cedarcreektreehouse.com.
Diane Foulds is a freelance writer in Vermont.