Imagine spending a night of luxury in the trees, 15 feet above ground. Mike Ouellette and Mike Peterson, owners of Frog Creek Lodge in Lakebay, will offer that unique opportunity to guests early this spring.
A staircase winds around a cedar tree leading to the door. The first floor is complete with a sitting area, fireplace, dining area and a bathroom with toilet, sink and shower. A spiral staircase hand-constructed from a tree trunk leads to a sleeping loft with a queen-sized bed. Windows view surrounding hemlocks.
“It’s not quite a tree house so much as a house up among the trees,” Ouellette said. He has been taken with tree houses for years and said his inspiration came while watching Tree House Masters, an Animal Planet series that premiered in 2012 and features Northwest builder Pete Nelson. But his dreams probably go back further – he has a picture on file of a tree house that caught his attention in 2009. “It’s not quite a tree house so much as a house up among the trees.”
Ouellette and Peterson moved to the Key Peninsula in 2009 when they purchased Frog Creek Lodge. The lodge was built in the 1970s for a large blended family and had been converted by the next owner into a retreat center. With friends in the hospitality industry and Ouellette’s experience as a contractor, they felt they had what they needed to make the business a success. They have poured energy and money into renovations and upgrades over the years. A nearly mile-long trail circles the 10-acre property as well as a gazebo surrounded by a labyrinth.
They have never looked back. “We like it here and we will never move back to the Seattle area,” Ouellette said.
They are as busy as they want to be with an average of 35 bookings each year, mostly repeat customers, and new bookings through word of mouth and Facebook. The lodge itself can sleep 21 and is too large to consider booking for just a single person or a couple, but they wanted to offer that for customers.
Initially they intended to add a small ground-based building. “But why put our money in a little place on the ground when we can put it up in the air?” Ouellette said. Planning began in earnest in early 2017. A friend sent him a picture of a staircase winding around a tree and he knew that was how they would access their tree house. “But why put our money in a little place on the ground when we can put it up in the air?”
After talking to various tree house contractors for advice, Ouellette was disappointed by the interactions. “We decided to do it ourselves.”
It wasn’t easy. “No one seems to have ever done anything quite like this before. Our architect had never designed a tree house, the engineer had never done a tree house, our contractors had never built a tree house, the health department and planning departments had never permitted a tree house,” Ouellette said.
It was a challenge and learning experience for everyone involved. The house is supported by four 25-foot steel vertical beams, each with 10 feet buried in cement. Ouellette and the builder designed the braces for the house and for the stairs, which must be independent of each other for safety. Motion-activated lights guide guests up and down the stairs.
Despite the challenges, Ouellette said that, if this venture is successful, they are ready to build another tree house. But, he said, “The next one will be smaller and it will be a single story. Having a loft really complicated the engineering and construction.” For more information: frogcreeklodge.com