FREEPORT — When Clifford Anderson turned 10, his dad asked him what he wanted for his birthday.

“A tree fort,” was his reply.

So his dad, Matt Anderson, took Clifford to the Freeport landfill.

The dump.

And over the past four years, the pair has used salvaged materials to create a 10-foot-high treehouse with a deck, a slide, windows, screens, a door and a roof.

But they’re not done yet. They have amassed a pile of plywood, windows and other materials they hope to use for the treehouse’s future expansion.

“We’re going to build another platform over there, in that tree,” said Clifford, 14, pointing to an evergreen about 15 feet from the treehouse. “And we’ll have a rope bridge, or something like that, to get to it.”

Even though we live in an age of elaborate playscapes and designer playhouses, there’s something about the idea of a treehouse, no matter how basic or rudimentary, that endures.

If you peer into backyards around southern Maine, you are likely to find lots of families putting their own modern-day spin on the treehouse concept. The one thing they have in common is their ability to capture a child’s imagination.

“I think a lot of it is the excitement of going up high, of climbing up into the trees,” said Liz Dow of Yarmouth, whose three children play in a treehouse built by Dow’s uncle, who works as a builder. “The kids use it all the time. And their friends can’t wait to come over and play with it.”

Some treehouses, like the Dows’, are sturdy little replicas of real houses. If you have the skills, you can get some playhouse or shed plans and basically build that structure on a platform in the trees. Depending on how many trees you have, you’ll probably need one to three support posts in addition to the tree.

GOING THROUGH A PHASE

In some cases, the family treehouse is just an open platform in the trees, maybe with a few embellishments.

Sarah and Peter Klein have built such a treehouse among trees at their home in Cumberland. They have a railing made of fallen tree branches ringing the platform. They hope to add another platform with a trapdoor entry above. And perhaps a swing attached to the bottom of the treehouse.

The platform sits about 8 feet above the ground on one end and 4 feet on the other, as it’s over a slope.

Peter Klein and two of his sons, ages 6 and 4, spent most of last summer working on “phase one” and hope to add the second platform during “phase two” this summer.

“That’s the whole point for us — for them to have fun and take ownership of this, to build it themselves,” said Sarah Klein.

For the Andersons, building a treehouse has become a family lesson in recycling.

“For the floor and the joists, we bought those to make it sturdy. But most everything else was something people got rid of,” said Matt Anderson. “I remember going to the landfill to drop off some paper goods and Clifford said, ‘Hey Dad, windows.’ And they weren’t very old, either.”

Matt said he made a conscious effort to use used materials in the treehouse. He and his wife, Whitney, also like the fact that, as Clifford has worked on the treehouse over the years, he’s learned a lot about building, planning and problem- solving.

“I built tree forts with my dad, and I’m happy to be passing it along to Clifford,” said Matt, who sells automated manufacturing equipment. “It’s good to learn how to use tools, to measure twice and cut once, things like that.”

Matt said he didn’t start with any plan or design. He just looked at the trees in his yard, and begin building a platform and putting in support posts where needed. He made sure everything was level and secure by using the proper bolts and other hardware.

Although Matt has done most of the building with his son, his two daughters — Allie, 11, and Beverly, 9 — use the treehouse a lot too. Beverly totes cans and bottles up there to play store, and both use the slide, which came off a used swing set.

Clifford is hoping to have a sleepover in the treehouse once the weather gets warm.

“They have a lot of fun out there, and we didn’t spend a lot of money on it since most of it was used or found at the dump,” Whitney said. “It’s ridiculous what people throw away.”

 

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]