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Originally published Thursday, April 14, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Treehouse dream comes true in Siskiyous

Michael Garnier dangled his legs over the edge of his new home, under construction in the shadow of Siskiyou National Forest in southwest...

Knight Ridder Newspapers

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CAVE JUNCTION, Ore. — Michael Garnier dangled his legs over the edge of his new home, under construction in the shadow of Siskiyou National Forest in southwest Oregon.

It had been a long day of work, and Garnier and the half-dozen men who were helping him were relaxing, swapping stories.

Sometime this summer Garnier and his wife, Peggy Malone, will move into this one-of-a-kind house: 1,800 square feet, with a second-story living area and kitchen built over the garage. Two bedrooms will occupy the top floor.

Not impressed so far? Consider this: Garnier's new house is being constructed around a 300-year-old white oak tree. He's building two additional bedrooms in tree houses, which will be connected to the main house by bridges.

Garnier calls this his "hybrid" tree house. "I created an artificial root system with steel and concrete," he said.

Only Michael Garnier would think to actually live in a tree house on his rural 37-acre spread. Then again, only Michael Garnier — former physician's assistant, former Green Beret medic — would spend the better part of a decade fighting the government over the right to lodge guests in the nine tree houses spread across his property.

The lower level of Serendipitree features a seating area that converts to a bed at the Out 'n' About Treesort.

It's an understatement to say that Garnier's Out 'n' About Treesort is remote. The nearest town, Cave Junction, is home to only 1,300 or so people. The Garniers live about 10 miles southeast of there, out past Takilma, an unincorporated community that is no more than a few houses.

When you see the tree houses — and only then — you will know you've arrived. But it might take more than a few minutes to fully absorb the scope of Garnier's creations. Spread over about four acres are 20 staircases, several bridges and platforms and nine grand tree houses.

For starters, there's the Peacock Perch, which sits about 25 feet off the ground and is reached by three flights of stairs. Its amenities include a double bed, a refrigerator and sink — cold water only; sorry.

Even higher is the Treezebo, which is 37 feet above the ground and is reached by way of a winding staircase and a series of platforms and suspension bridges called the Mountain View Treeway.

But the house that really captivates the imagination is the Swiss Family Complex, which has two units separated by a swinging bridge. It has a rope swing and a fireman's pole — the fastest way to the ground.

That's where Monica Kesling and Nick Ulrich, of Boise, were spending the weekend with their children — T.J. Kesling, 9; Abby Kesling, 6; and Logan Ulrich, 5.

The kids — not to mention the adults — were loving it.

"How often do you get to stay in a tree house?" Ulrich said. "It's pretty cool."

Summer months are booked pretty solid, with 35 to 60 guests a day, said Sommer Turner, Garnier's daughter and Treesort's assistant manager.

Things slow down at other times, but many of the tree houses are open year-round, even when the weather turns nippy in this part of Oregon.

On a sunny Saturday morning, Michael Garnier perched on a stool in his bustling kitchen, filled with the smells of breakfast. Sleepy guests refilled their coffee cups and filled their plates with muffins, melons, eggs and pancakes. Garnier kept them entertained with his quick wit.

If you go

The Out 'n' About Treesort is about 10 miles southeast of Cave Junction in southwest Oregon.

Prices in the tree houses range from $100 in Serendipitree to $180 in the Treeroom Schoolhouse Suite (with kitchenette and bath, including a clawfoot tub) for four. Prices go down a little in the winter. Details: 541-592-2208 or see

Beyond the beauty of the Oregon landscape, beyond the quirkiness of sleeping in a tree house, Garnier's hospitality and showmanship are pretty good reasons to visit. How many puns can the man create from the word "tree"?

It has been 16 years since he got into the bed-and-breakfast business. "I started with a cabin and horseback riding back in '89," he said. "Nobody came.

"I had a tree house that I had built for my kids. I always wanted to fix it up. I said, 'Why not have an adult tree house as my bed and breakfast?' Everybody thought it was crazy."

That was the Peacock Perch, completed in 1990. And it worked. "I was able to get some publicitree," Garnier said. "People started coming, and it filled up."

But trouble soon followed.

"When I started building the Peacock, I went in to (the county offices). They said all the structures had to be permitted. But they said because it's a tree house you can't get a building permit."

Almost a decade of legal wrangling with county officials ensued. Finally, in 1998, one of the three county commissioners — whom Garnier still refers to as the Tree Stooges — was voted out of office.

"Everything fell into place," he said, and he finally got the permit to legally operate a B&B.

Treesort guests have plenty of diversions to choose from. Besides crafts classes, a fire pit is perfect for campfires and roasting hotdogs or marshmallows. A fresh-water swimming pool is available when the weather permits. There's horseback riding, rafting on the nearby rivers, a ropes course for rappelling and a new 160-foot zip line, carrying riders high above the trees.

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