Ohio Bird Sanctuary Treehouse

Ohio Bird Sanctuary Executive Director Gail Laux and other local dignitaries pose for a photo at the ground-breaking ceremony for the new wheelchair accessible treehouse classroom Monday afternoon at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary.

MANSFIELD — Instead of a ground-breaking, it was a plank-sawing.

And given the soaring cost of lumber, the handsaw-wielding dignitaries gathered at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary on Monday afternoon were careful not to do any actual cutting into the board placed in front of them. After all, it will soon be part of the new wheelchair accessible treehouse classroom and suspended forest trail.

A team from Washington state-based Nelson Treehouse — of the popular Animal Planet program Treehouse Masters — was already on site Monday examining the trees and staging the area. The crew includes carpenters Henry and Charlie Nelson, the twin sons of Pete Nelson. They will begin construction on the $380,000 project Tuesday and hope to finish by mid-August.

“It’s probably one of the most exciting things we have to date,” Ohio Bird Sanctuary Executive Director Gail Laux said. “This is a new piece for us where kids, no matter what their abilities or disabilities, will be able to spend time learning and exploring the trees.

“We’ve become a place where individuals with disabilities can enjoy nature. We’ve worked very hard to develop that at the sanctuary. The one thing we haven’t been able to replicate is that time on the trails. That’s what this treehouse is going to be able to do.”

Henry Nelson

Carpenter Henry Nelson of Washington state-based Nelson Treehouse discusses the renowed company's newest project Monday at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary.

Plans call for a 100 foot treetop bridge that will leave from an existing wheelchair accessible field classroom and link to the new open-air gazebo-style classroom suspended between beech and sycamore trees above the forest floor.

“This one is exciting because it’s a beautiful area, great people and wheelchair accessible is always a huge bonus to me,” Henry Nelson said. “It’s just so cool to get people who can’t get into the trees, into the trees.”

The project is personal for Laux and her husband, Chris. Chris and Gail’s oldest daughter, Samantha, battled a rare genetic condition called Neurofibromatosis 2 (NF2), which robbed her of the ability to see, hear and walk. Samantha lost her battle in 2012.

“She loved to be in nature, whether it was fishing or climbing a tree,” Gail said. “I want to serve all individuals, but to do this in Samantha’s memory, it speaks to a mom’s heart.

“What we’re hoping is this is going to expand our ability to serve families with disabilities.

It makes it fun for everybody to be out in the trees.”

A Nelson-designed treehouse is sure to be a tourist attraction.

“We’ve got the Treehouse Masters here and we’re just so excited. We have the best of the best bringing it right here to Mansfield,” Gail said. “What we’re trying to create here at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary is a daylong destination. Fifty percent of our visitors are coming from two hours away. For people to travel that distance, it’s nice that we are able to offer something that they can spend a half day or a full day doing.”

OBS drawing

As per usual, the treehouse classroom will feature some Nelson-style flair. Henry was especially excited about the structure’s roof.

“It’s hard to explain,” Henry said. “It’s going to be strange looking, but it’s going to be really cool.”

Brother Charlie can’t wait to get started.

“There’s so many facets to this hole process,” Charlie said. “It’s fun to get the beams up in the trees and see it start to take shape and it’s also fun to let the people come and experience the trees.”

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I have covered high school sports in Richland County since 2000. Email him at curt@richlandsource.com or follow him on Twitter: Follow @curtjconrad on twitter.