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  • A tree house in Fairfax, Va. may soon meet an untimely demise. That is, if the Fairfax County zoning board gets its way.

    When he left for Iraq, Mark Grapin, an Army aviation specialist, promised his two sons he would build them a tree house when he got home. He wanted to give them a special hideaway, the kind that he had growing up, when according to The Washington Post, he and his friends “built a tree house using bent nails, apple crates and whatever else they could scavenge.”

    In this day and age, Grapin knew his childhood tree house would be a lawsuit waiting to happen. So when he returned from Iraq, he invested $1,400 to build a sturdy structure and made sure to contact the county to ask if he needed any special permits. He was assured he did not. It was only after he built the thing that the county board of zoning enforcement told him he had to take it down.

    Why? Because Grapin owns a corner lot, and his backyard is actually considered a front yard, meaning he has to follow the zoning code. Merni Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for the county, told The Washington Post, “It’s no different from a shed or a garage or any structure.”

    Well, except that it’s a tree house. It’s one of the coolest things a kid could ask for, inviting hours of imaginative outdoor play not only for Grapin’s sons but for their friends in the broader community. To destroy it over a zoning technicality sends the message that we care more about rules and regulations—whether or not they make sense—than we do about the health of our children.

    Grapin appealed the zoning board’s initial ruling and on Nov. 30, he has one last opportunity to plead his case. Let’s join forces to tell the Fairfax County Zoning Board to let the tree house stay!

     

    Photo credit: Mark Grapin, The Washington Post.
     

  • Play haterIt’s a dangerous world, and it seems that few places these days are more dangerous than your local playground. While see-saws plot to crush your children’s fingers, jungle gyms tempt them to climb to dizzying heights, and swings gleefully eject them onto potentially inadequate safety surfacing.

    Now, school inspectors in New Jersey have identified yet another playground menace: trees. Yes, sadly, trees are not the friendly oxygen-giving, shade-offering specimens we have long assumed them to be. No, instead they are the bearers of “suspended hazards” (i.e. branches) that children just might run into or trip over. To eliminate this threat, the director of a rural child-care facility in Moorestown, N.J., Sue Maloney, has been ordered to remove all tree branches below 7.5 feet from the school property, or risk jeopardizing its safety record.

    Maloney, who has been running Moorestown Children’s School since 1981, has never before been told that the trees pose a problem, and has long enjoyed watching children play with and around the branches. In her 30 years on the job, these branches have yet to injure a child, and she feels that removing them would be “fundamentally changing a great place for children.”

    Maloney says, “As we attempt to preserve children's access to natural spaces, we also need to create a body of evidence that speaks to the reality that children are able to be safe on them.”

    Maloney is on a mission to convince the inspectors to reconsider their orders, and you can help! Sign this online petition to send a message to Jane Minnella, Supervisor of Child Care Quality Assurance Inspections for the State of New Jersey’s Office of Licensing.

    TreeHelp! Will someone please save this child from mortal peril?! Photo by theunquietlibrarian (cc).

    Learn more about Moorestown Children's School, and learn more about this story at Free Range Kids and at Parent Central.

  • We are gathered here today to mourn the premature passing of Narelle Street tree house in North Bondi, Australia. For eight precious years, the tree house offered children their own leafy haven, refusing entrance to grown-ups “at any time.” On its well-worn wooden platform, children shared secrets, explored the natural world, and delegated responsibilities as kings and queens of the forest.

    The Waverly Council deemed the Narelle Street tree house a danger to children, not because it had hurt anyone, but because it failed to meet “council standards.” Parents in the community heroically stepped up to rescue it from imminent demolition. Alas, their efforts were in vain. The tree house fell victim to the over-regulation and worst-first thinking that has plagued so many other play structures before it. It met its early demise in the name of children’s safety, and yet we must ask ourselves if its absence will only hurt children more.

    Friends and fellow play advocates, please join us in paying tribute to the beloved Narelle Street Tree House as we grieve its premature passing.

    Top photo courtesy of Save Narelle Street Tree House. Get the full story from the Sydney Morning Herald.

    Pay your respects at our other virtual funerals.

  • Don't forget the trees!

    April 13, 2010

    Leafy trees will become our saviors this summer, offering respite from the blazing sun. So let’s make sure we don’t forget to plant them in our playgrounds!

    That’s the focus of tomorrow’s national webcast, “Trees at Playspaces,” brought to you by the Alliance for Community Trees. Our very own Director of Operations, Dave Flanigan, will be leading the webcast, as will Kathleen Ownby, the Executive Director of SPARK Park.

    According to the Alliance for Community Trees, “Incorporating trees at playspaces improves the aesthetics, provides shade to reduce children's exposure to UV rays, and cleans the air to help prevent asthma and promote healthy lung function. By introducing nature into the play environment, trees can also spark children's imagination and creativity.”

    Webcast attendees will learn about:

    • Incorporating landscaping and trees into playground construction plans.
    • Working with local partners to bring a KaBOOM! playground to your neighborhood.
    • Educating project funders about the importance of trees in playspaces.
    • Greening existing playgrounds in your neighborhood.
    • Children's activities and educational play involving trees and nature.

    Join the webcast TODAY, April 15, from 1 - 2 p.m. EST. Register for Trees at Playspaces here.

  • NeighborWoodsAll around the country, in rural communities and big cities alike, special events and activities ranging from tree plantings to street festivals to youth programs this month will help "re-green" communities and educate people about the value of trees.

    Created by the Alliance for Community Trees (ACT) and sponsored by The Home Depot Foundation, the event was organized to support local tree-planting organizations and their efforts to be a catalyst in making neighborhoods healthier, safer and more livable.

    “National NeighborWoods Month offers a unique opportunity for people to understand the contributions of trees to the health, beauty and livability of their communities,” said Kelly Caffarelli, executive director of The Home Depot Foundation.  “By partnering with ACT and local NeighborWoods organizations like [insert name of local organization], The Foundation is able to further its goals of investing in the overall health and success of our communities.”

    Register your event, find an event near you, and learn more at the NeighborWoods Month website.