Award Winner - May 2008
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A View From the Top—For Everyone

The David Wenzel Treehouse at Nay Aug Park
Scranton, Pennsylvania

S U B M I T T E D    B Y

City of Scranton, Pa.

Quick Tour:

Accessible treehouse and ramp system

t's not every day you see a treehouse in a city park, but that's exactly what you'll find at Nay Aug Park in downtown Scranton, Pa. After Mayor Christopher Doherty read about Forever Young Treehouses, a nonprofit organization that builds accessible treehouses, he knew he had the perfect spot in Nay Aug Park.

That spot is 150 feet above a gorge that was not easily accessible to the general public, let alone anyone with limited mobility. According to Rob Farrell, who served as the project manager for what's now known as the David Wenzel Treehouse, the accessibility is central to the story of the treehouse, as not only does it provide a majestic view of a spot previously unseen by many, but it bridges the gap between all generations because the Forever Young Treehouses are built to be used by all, regardless of age or ability.

The treehouse is accessed via a long ramp system, which meets all ADA specifications and leads to the "Mothership." Another unique aspect of the treehouse is that the ramp system is supported by steel "trees" in addition to live ones. The extra supports were necessary to meet the grade necessary for the long ramp system. The steel trees are camouflaged in a 40-year epoxy paint, designed to withstand the test of time and virtually unnoticeable.

"Often the ramp systems aren't as high up in the air," Farrell said. "They're on a much less dramatic grade and can be supported on log poles and natural trees. This one is much higher." He explains that this was necessary to perch the Mothership at the end of the gorge.

While this project required the addition of the steel trees, the design still incorporated and accommodated live trees. Four live trees are incorporated at each platform and another goes through the Mothership. The platforms float in relation to the ramps and are constructed in a way to allow the trees to sway without impacting the ramps.

It probably comes as no surprise that the use of natural materials is key to a project like this. The handrail is constructed of hop hornbeam saplings, which are harvested for the job and stripped of bark while still green. "They're extremely resistant and hard," Farrell said of the saplings. But stripping them is "days of work." The posts on the Mothership are all cedar. The top rail and decking is ipe. All the trees connected to the project are oak trees and were tested by an arborist to ensure they were healthy enough to be project participants. Farrell said that Forever Young is very sensitive to not impacting the health of the trees involved.

The roof of the Mothership is covered in split-face cedar and is notable not only for the large oak tree branches that pass through it but because the roof was donated by a local roofer.

Community involvement and strong leadership by the mayor have revitalized the 300-acre Nay Aug Park. A community-built playground, upgraded pool facilities, landscaping and clearing overgrown trails are just some of the initiatives Doherty has spearheaded in addition to the crowning achievement: the David Wenzel Treehouse. Once, the park had maybe 10,000 visitors a year according to the mayor, and now estimates of visitors per year are about 1 million.

"For so long, the park was symbolic of the downturn of the community," Doherty said. His goal was to turn the park around. Another statistic showing his success comes from Director of Parks and Recreation Mark Dougher, who said that the pavilion above the treehouse used to be rented out maybe three times a year. Now it's rented out 265 times a year. The treehouse is often booked for wedding ceremonies and photographs.

Both Farrell and Doherty said you can find visitors there every day of the week at all times—walking the dog, reading the paper, taking in the scenery. Most of all, they're taking pride in their treehouse. "It's an attraction on its own," Doherty said. "People brag about it."


W H A T   T H E   J U D G E S   S A I D

Playfully creates ADA accessibility to a beautiful natural area.

Janet Jordan

A special place in the treetops for Scranton residents.

Steve Blackburn

Sensitive to setting. Fun, innovative, clever details. A captivating tiny project.

Nancy Freedman

Great way to introduce the disabled community into a natural environment.

Randy Mendioroz

A S S O C I A T E D    F I R M S


Forever Young Treehouses


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