About five years ago, Rufus Kneece began building his daughter Valerie a house in the trees.
Being a safety nut, he was very particular about the construction.
Rather than use the surrounding trees for support, Mr. Kneece anchored steel stilts 5 feet deep in the ground. The ladder, support beams under the floor and railing across the iron-grate deck also are steel.
The treehouse was so solidly built that when tornadoes ripped through the Kneeces' yard in 1998 - uprooting trees and causing more than $30,000 damage to their home - the 12-foot-high treehouse was relatively unharmed.
"It's the safest place to be during a storm," Valerie said.
But what's more important for a 14-year-old girl it that is her space.
"In the spring and the fall, this is my home away from home," she said. "It's the place where me and my friends hang out."
The only rule her parents have, and it is strictly enforced, is that she keeps the safety chains hooked across the entryway as long as she is up there.
Inside the 8-by-12-foot house, Valerie has two chairs that convert into beds for sleepovers. A dining table, big enough for four, sits to one side, leaving plenty of room for sleeping bags.
More traditional treehouses - those actually in trees - hide amid the leaves across the area.
Magical memories of his own palace in the pines inspired John Staton of Martinez to build a treehouse for his sons, John, 6, and Conner, 3.
"We throw balls at each other. And play army with squirt guns," Conner said, stopping to point at a butterfly outside the window.
It took two weekends for Mr. Staton and his friend Ben Hagler to build the treehouse in the back yard of the Statons' home in the Bridlewood subdivision in Martinez. They bolted 2-by-4s to five trees to provide the framework. Deck boards make up the walls, floors and ceiling. They left the roof flat so they can add a second level in a few years, when 10-month-old Hunter Staton is old enough to play with his brothers.
Mr. Staton is still adding features to the playhouse, which is 7 feet off the ground. A ladder leads through a trap door in the floor, which is balanced with weights to make it easier for Conner to pull open.
The next goal is to add amenities, such as a zip line - a cord running from the treehouse to the ground with a pulley attached so the boys can slide from one place to another.
Just around the corner, Carl and Kris Fausnight have a rustic treehouse, anchored in several pines, that they built about four years ago - when they were 11 and 13.
They reach their treehouse with a rope ladder because they found it was cheaper and more convenient than a wooden ladder. But they quickly discovered a bonus.
They could pull the rope up to keep others out, which comes in particularly handy during pine cone or paint-ball wars, said Carl, now 15.
The boys have added smaller platforms in the trees around the paint-splattered main treehouse. These satellites are connected to the treehouse by planks that have rope handrails.
"We have two already," Carl said. "Now we're building a third one."
The outlying platforms offer additional vantage points during paint-ball battles.
Although the boys are too old for ghost stories, they remember when the treehouse was full of their spooky tales.
"It's really, really dark back there, but that just added to the scariness," Carl said.
The Fausnights' treehouse sits on the back corner of their triangular half-acre lot, where Sharon, their mother, can see it from the kitchen window.
"It made me feel better that they were playing where I could call out to them when they were younger, instead of all over the neighborhood," Mrs. Fausnight said.
Reach Lisa M. Lohr at (706) 823-3332 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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