Spotlight puts B.C. squatter's tree house in jeopardy
Published Wednesday, April 25, 2012 1:07PM PDT
The future of a B.C. man's dream tree house, built illegally on Crown land in the lush hemlock forest outside Whistler, is in jeopardy after being featured in a major design magazine.
Joel Allen's egg-shaped abode was a closely-guarded secret for three years before he decided to show it off in U.S.-based Dwell magazine's April issue – and once his stunning design and remarkable personal story went public, there was no turning back. It went viral online immediately.
On his blog, the 31-year-old describes fretting before the story broke about the potential implications for his passion project, dubbed "the HemLoft."
"Coming out of the bush about the HemLoft is fun, however it poses a few problems; if people know about it, they might try to find it. And if the wrong people find it, they may make me take it down," Allen wrote.
The graceful fort was conceived in 2006 after the free-thinking outdoorsman lost his job as a software developer and took to squatting in his car and sleeping in hollowed-out logs, water towers and a host of other bizarre locations for sport.
"My favourite sleeping places were usually perches of some sort, so the idea of sleeping in a tree was a natural extension," Allen said. "The more I thought about it, the more I wanted a little loft in the woods."
Unsatisfied with the clunky look of traditional tree houses, Allen bounced ideas off his friends before settling on the "elegant, organic" egg design. He scoured the woods outside Whistler for months searching for the perfect location before setting on an area neighbouring a set of lavish mansions still under construction.
Using self-taught carpentry skills, he went to work.
There were hiccups along the way, including the increased helicopter traffic during the 2010 Winter Olympics that led Allen to anxiously strip his project to its basic skeleton in hopes of avoiding unwanted attention.
But with help from his new girlfriend Heidi, and thousands of dollars in free building materials obtained on Craigslist, the project slowly crept toward completion. It was finished in August 2011, one week before the couple was set to leave for Nova Scotia, but they moved in for a short-term living arrangement Allen describes with smitten adoration.
"That week turned out to be so delightful that it couldn't possibly endure, except as a memory," he wrote.
The structure still hangs from a single hemlock tree, accessible only by a narrow walkway and equipped with a sliding door, patio and glass roof – but Allen worries its days are numbered.
"To the best of my knowledge, squatting on Whistler Mountain, beneath some of Western Canada's most luxurious mega-homes would not be looked favourably upon," he said.
The adventurer has asked the public to vote on how he should proceed with the house, from tearing it down to making it a public camp site to buying the land from the government.
According to the Whistler Question newspaper, there is growing community support for maintaining the HemLoft where it is, and sharing it with any respectful visitors who go hunting for it – a solution Allen would be likely to embrace, so long as it keeps the project above ground.
For more information and to weigh in on the fate of the HemLoft, visit Allen's blog.