East Central Kentucky’s Red River Gorge is a popular destination for rock climbing, hiking and other outdoor activities. A Cincinnati man is now offering nature loving visitors there an experience that’s off the grid and off the ground.
At age 19, Django Kroner moved to Red River Gorge, known for its natural stone arches and sandstone cliffs. He went to pursue rock climbing and ended up building and living in a treehouse 45 feet off the canopy floor for three years.
Django: “I stayed up there in the storms and in the snow. I loved it. It was great. The first time waking up watching the snow fall, getting visited by flying squirrels and tree frogs. Everything about it was awesome.”
The experience was so profound, Django bought private property there. Now at age 27 he’s the owner of a treehouse building company, The Canopy Crew. His goal is a treehouse village.
Django: “I mean it seems like a no brainer to be able to provide kind of a community feel in the trees.”
Near a brook and past a rustic cabin, there’s a narrow path of gravel and rocks that leads to treehouses Kroner’s built and rents to guests. It’s a short hike to the steps of one that has a hammock built into the deck. Django named this one the Sylvan Float.
Django: “Floating is like a thing I’m always trying to capture in a treehouse. They’re floating in the tree tops kind of sailing through the canopy. So it’s kind of suspended on cables. It just kind of surfs when the wind blows.”
High above the rhododendrons is the Observatory Treehouse. As we begin the climb up 200 beautifully-crafted wooden steps to the three-tiered structure that includes a kitchen, bedroom, and high-powered telescope the Hanrahan family is making their way down.
Guest Kim Hanrahan: “It’s perfectly named. Cause you know, the Observatory It’s like you can see everything up there.”
That’s Kim Hanrahan from Cincinnati. The creative director for a tourism publication spent a night in the Observatory with her husband and three sons. The bedroom is 50 feet off the forest floor.
Kim Hanrahan: “Like I thought you’d just get up there and be in it. But every plateau you kind of took it in and really admired the building of it. Definitely off the grid. Nice getting the kids out of that. Nobody had wi-fi.”
On this very windy spring day, Django shows me around the Observatory. We’re about as high up as a five-story building.
Django: “Yeah we’ve arrived in the gear room. The first treehouse after the 200 steps above the forest. Out here’s the composting toilet with the Saturn punched through the door.”
Kroner has thought of everything to make his guests stay comfortable.
Django: “We just set up a crane off of the kitchen deck so when people bring their coolers up they can just toss their cooler in the crane and hoist it to the next level.”
The integrity and care of the trees is also a priority for him. He says they have it down to a pretty good science that’s proven to work.
The methods we use are about 30 years old. It’s like the coolest thing ever because it allows you to live in a tree and take care of a tree and they don’t mind. They support us and are great hosts.
According to the Kentucky Tourism Arts and Heritage Cabinet a half million people visit Red River Gorge annually.
Dr. James Maples, sociology professor at Eastern Kentucky University, completed a Red River Gorge economic impact study in 2015 with a focus on how much money rock climbers are spending in the area and their needs .
Maples: “Lodging is something that climbers need. Climbers don’t generally come from the Red River Gorge. They’re traveling from Knoxville, Cincinnati, Lexington. So they’re staying there overnight.”
Dr. Maples thinks the treehouses can have a positive impact on economic development in the region.”
Meanwhile Django Kroner says what he’s done so far is just the beginning of a treehouse village in Red River Gorge.