Windsor treehouses inspire hope for flood-ravaged town

WINDSOR, N.C. (WITN) – The Town of Windsor has made headlines recently after devastating flooding twice in less than a month from storms Julia and Matthew between September and October.

Despite their misfortune, one surviving and inspiring town project, the Windsor Treehouses, has many people looking forward with hope for the future.

When people come to the woods of Windsor, it’s typically for two things: peace and quiet. The town’s two treehouses aim to offer that peace and quiet to everyone.

“It gives me chills when we walk up here, like it really happened,” says Billy Smithwick, with Windsor Tourism & Marketing. “I don’t know of any treehouse in the world you can get to in a wheelchair except these.”

The treehouses are fully handicap accessible camping pads. Each has a platform for sleeping on the ground floor and a second loft sleeping area overhead.

Each is supported entirely by just one cypress tree. In one, the tree runs right up the middle of the house.

“The seals around the bottom are to keep insects and critters out, the seal around be top keeps rainwater out,” explains the town’s mayor, Jim Hoggard.

The treehouses will serve as a primitive camping site right off the river.

“You can go 200 yards down the river and you can’t see signs of human beings, so you’re in the wilderness quickly,” the mayor says.

People can get to the tiny tree homes by car or by boat.

“We think we’re the only handicap accessible treehouse village on a river in the United States,” says Hoggard.

The treehouse village took a village to create. Dr. Paige Viren and her graduate students at ECU’s Department of Sustainable Tourism started the process.

“It was funded by East Carolina University, we brought in a group of students to look at the feasibility of building treehouses, and part of that funding brought in a treehouse consultant, Michael Garnier, from out west and he came and looked at the cypress trees and said these would be perfect for building treehouses,” Viren says.

Garnier is a treehouse designer for the show ‘Treehouse Guys’ on the DIY Network.

“The ‘Treehouse Guys’, when we talked to them, had never built in a swamp and never built in a cypress tree so they were excited about it too,” Hoggard tells WITN.

Many community partners worked alongside the students to secure grant funding to build the houses.

The ‘Treehouse Guys’ and local carpenters worked from February to late spring of this year to complete them.

The mayor says, “They are fastened by what they call the G-limb, that’s Michael Garnier’s proprietary hardware, and each of those can hold, we’re told, about 8,000 pounds.”

The price per night has not yet been set. Leaders say it will only cover the cost of maintenance.

“They don’t have heat and air or running water, or even electricity,” Hoggard explains.

They just have one small string of LED lights powered by the sun.

“Our perspective in recreation and leisure studies is about providing quality of life and that’s for everybody, whether you have a disability or whether someone in your family has a disability,” Viren says.

“My greatest vision would be to have people come from all over, not just our little region right here in the northeast corner, but from all over the United States and enjoy and experience that I’ve enjoyed all my life,” Smithwick explains.

The treehouses will be available for rent as soon as the bathroom and shower facilities are finished nearby. Construction should begin any day now, the town is just waiting to receive the proper permits.