Raising funds

The Treehouse Project needs to raise a total of $33,333 through a Kickstarter campaign that ends at 5 p.m., Dec. 17.

The startup has several events and fundraisers, including:

• Tonight: 7 p.m., benefit at The Bitter Alibi. $1 from every beer goes toward Treehouse Project.

• Dec. 6: Small-scale display of treehouse at Conga restaurant, during MainX24 Festival/24-hour festival.

• Dec. 8: 5 p.m., bonfire at the treehouse property, 576 Chattanooga Valley Road, Flintstone, Georgia.

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Enoch Elwell
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Pictured is a rendering of what a treehouse built by the Treehouse Project would look like.

There was a time when a sleeping bag under a tent was the start and the end of amenities on camping trips. Vacationers were smelly, a bathroom was not an option, and the point was getting away from whatever you'd left behind in your house. Then came campsites with latrines and showers.

Today, there is "glamping," also known as glamorous camping. It doesn't have to be in a tent, but the proposition remains the same: you and nature, mixed together. It could happen in a yurt, a dome, a pod, a cabin.

It can be in a treehouse.

"If you had a treehouse growing up, you love them," said Andrew Alms. "If you didn't, you want one."

Or you want to sleep and play in one, your face pressed up against the rising breeze that winds through branches and leaves.

The Treehouse Project aims to build a cluster of tiny wooden structures at least a dozen feet off the ground, amid a forest at the foot of Lookout Mountain, below Rock City. Alms and Enoch Elwell would build the first one themselves, to open in March. It will have a shower, a toilet, a small refrigerator and a microwave oven, within a couple-hundred square feet. Internet service and some temperature control too.

Before that can happen though, the duo must secure $33,333 through Kickstarter.

The Chattanooga-based startup has until Dec. 17 to raise its cash. A few investors have expressed interest in the venture, but Treehouse Project prefers to have community backing, Alms said. Turns out Kickstarter also has anointed the project a "Staff Pick." As of late Tuesday afternoon, Treehouse Project had raised just over $6,000. And Alms and Elwell have put about $6,000 of their own money into the startup so far, Alms said.

Treehouse Project isn't only about luxury camping, though.

The startup plans to mark itself as the first in the world to build treehouses certified as "living buildings," through the International Living Building Future Institute. To get the rigorous certification a project must not only steer clear of harming the natural environment -- it has to help it.

"There certainly is not one in the state of Tennessee, and probably not one in the Southeast," said Michael Walton, executive director of Green'Spaces, the Chattanooga nonprofit organization helping Treehouse Project with the certification. The Living Building Institute could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

The startup said it is talking with EPB about solar power and what types of appliances to use.

"We're still learning about what the project is. It's certainly something we're intrigued in," EPB spokesman John Pless said. "We're going to continue the discussions to see what's out there for us to consider."

The startup won't need any zoning approvals to build, Alms said. "The county sees them as essentially a shed in the backyard." A Walker County planning and zoning official couldn't be reached Tuesday for comment.

In comparison, Hamilton County and Chattanooga codes would have barred the project.

A treehouse company seems a good fit for Alms, 27, a former construction administrator for Thunder Enterprises, and Elwell, 28, a Co.Lab director. Both have carpentry backgrounds. Elwell and his wife spent their most recent wedding anniversary in a treehouse in a private yard in Georgia. That's when the idea for the company took hold.

Elwell later purchased 2 acres at the foot of Lookout Mountain, the planned site. The company plans to lease it from him. Four units could fit there now. Eventually, the company would like to acquire another 5 acres, increasing to at least eight units within three years. Units could sleep up to four and would rent for $275 on weeknights, $325 on weekends.

It's hard to come by statistics on treehouse vacationing. But a quick poll of folks who embrace it or make money from it indicate it's on the rise.

"Most people tell me that it's magical, it's mystical. It sounds fluffy, but people really enjoy it," said Kevin Mooney, founder of the International Treehouse Association and owner of The Mohicans, a treehouse rental company in Ohio.

According to Travel + Leisure, hotels in treetops -- which often look like a cross between luxury treehouses and sheek buildings tangled in branches -- have been around since the mid-1980s. Most are overseas, from Brazil to China. The U.S. has a few traditional-looking treehouse resorts: in Ohio, Oregon and Washington.

There's also one, sort of, in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts, part of the upscale Wheatleigh hotel. The Aviary offers far more than "glamping." At a cost of $2,100 a night, the two-story suite has a downstairs living room encased fully by windows and a sculptural glass-enclosed circular stairway leading to a "second-floor sleeping room floating in the trees," according to the hotel's website. Also: a Bang & Olufsen entertainment system.

Contact staff writer Mitra Malek at or 423-757-6406.