Normally, Werner Streicek looks at a piece of wood and sees a carving. But 25 years ago, he looked at two trees on Hot Springs Road and saw an education centre.
Streicek, a nearly 75-year-old carver and self-proclaimed “treasure hunter,” first came to Harrison Hot Springs in the mid-90s to settle down and practice his art.
He is best known for his anatomically-accurate Sasquatch named, appropriately, Big Woody — “one of the big papers, they wrote that old ladies shouldn’t come up here,” Streicek remembered, laughing. “Of course all the old ladies wanted to see what was obscene” — and over the years has created nearly 200 carvings.
But throughout it all, the idea of an education centre has remained. And now, Streicek is hopeful that his idea could become a reality.
The tree house education centre
“To me, it would be a major attraction,” he said, sitting on the deck of his Harrison home.
Streicek’s vision is a simple one: build a tree house around a large Maple and Cedar tree, growing side by side on a property near the driveway for the Harrison Country Club.
The trees are in a narrow strip of land close to Hot Springs Road, an inlet from the Miami River divides the property from the Harrison Country Club RV spots behind it. Although the property is technically classified as developable land by the village, the riparian zone extends far into the property and would make residential development challenging.
In Streicek’s dream, a 50-foot high structure would encompass both trees, and stairs would allow visitors to walk up to the canopy, learning First Nations teachings about the earth as they go.
“I can imagine a family that goes up into that tree house, where you actually can hug the tree and say hello to the tree and see the incredible integration,” Streicek said.
Making it happen
When Streicek first had the idea 25 years ago, he was never able to get it off the ground. It lay dormant since then, waiting for the right time to come back to the surface.
Then, Streicek heard about the elevated tree walk being considered near the Sea to Sky Gondola.
“I thought, wow. I’ve got to go for my tree house again,” he said. He approached the new owner of the property, Greg Wilson, who has been building his house on the far end of the lot across from the municipal hall.
“I’m definitely on board with it,” Wilson said. “I talked to my wife, and she thinks it’s a great idea too.”
“Why not?” He added. “I mean, we can’t use the property for anything else. We can’t build a house there. So might as well enjoy it; let people enjoy it.”
Although Wilson is on board with the idea, and is even willing to donate the land as an educational park if that will help move the project along, there’s still a lot of hurdles for Harrison’s tree house to get over.
The riparian area, a protected zone along the Miami River, will still need to be considered in any potential development that happens on that property. There are also permits to be applied for and Harrison council to consider. Wilson wants to finish his house and be living on the property before anything major moves forward.
The hope for both Wilson and Streicek is to get the wheels in motion soon, so the project can be underway by the summer of next year.
“I would like to do it tomorrow,” Streicek said. “But when you talk politics, the wheels are moving very slowly.”