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Costa Rican treehouse community with Oklahoma ties is an arboreal playground

Finca Bellavista is a tree house community in Costa Rica. Now five years old, it's growing almost as fast as the plants around it.
by Ken Raymond Published: May 22, 2012
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Chris Kneifl hadn't been planning on saying the words — not now, at least — but he couldn't have stopped himself if he'd tried.

What better time could there be? What better location?

Here they were, still in sight of their rented tree house high in the Costa Rican canopy, hiking by a rushing waterfall. Everything around them spoke of life: the vast expanse of greenery filling their lungs with oxygen, the splashing of the water as it tumbled over the rocks, the array of fauna moving among the trees.

So there, in the rain forest, watched over by insects and monkeys and birds, the words slipped out.

“We were just spending time together,” said Kneifl, 36, a Spanish instructor at the University of Oklahoma, “and it was a beautiful setting, and I spontaneously proposed to my girlfriend. ... I didn't have a ring with me. It wasn't really planned.”

But it was perfect. Two and half years later, he and wife, Christina Chumard, are happily married and filled with fond memories of their holiday in southern Costa Rica.

Chalk up another win for Finca Bellavista.

Dream becomes reality

In 2006, Matt Hogan, originally of California, visited the South American country on a surfing trip. He loved the area so much that he returned with his wife, Erica Hogan, of Oklahoma City.

They purchased a 62-acre tract of land with the idea of creating a sustainable tree house community that would blend into the forest and cause minimal harm to it. Visualizing it was fun; building it was all but impossible.

The Hogans didn't speak Spanish. They didn't have a place to stay. The early days of their adventure were spent in soaked tents and mud, dealing with privations most Americans cannot imagine. They had no electricity, no phones, no contact with the outside world.

They also didn't know anything about constructing or managing a housing development, and despite its exotic nature, that's exactly what Finca Bellavista is. Erica Hogan describes it as “the world's first true arboreal tree house community, master planned and built from the ground up.”

In truth, not everyone there lives in tree houses, although there are eight on the property, which now consists of more than 300 acres. In all, there are 26 structures. Plots sell for $55,000 or more, and tree or stilt houses cost $35,000 to $150,000.

The land is heavily forested, but it is largely secondary growth; most of it has been cleared at some point. The base camp is located at the site of a former gravel pit; a small community took root there after the pit was abandoned, but fire drove residents away sometime in the 1980s.

Finca Bellavista (roughly translated: Beautiful View Farm) is accessible through an old logging road. When the Hogans purchased the property, it was advertised as a lumber site. Now the same trees that would've been chopped down serve as roosts for the tree homes and support an extensive network of zip lines. Foot paths are available for those who don't like heights.

The houses rely on rainwater-catch plumbing and bio-digester composting toilets. Homes are built of native wood and must be sustainable. Most are small or comprise a series of structures linked by platforms.

Flying through

the night

Several are available for rent, including the Hogans' own home, Mis Ojos Miran La Catarata, a two-level structure nestled atop three trees. Rates for various properties range from $80 (for a one room “jungalow”) to $260 a night (for a four-person tree house perched 90 feet above the ground, along with an attached casita).

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by Ken Raymond
Book Editor
Ken Raymond is the book editor. He joined The Oklahoman in 1999. He has won dozens of state, regional and national writing awards. Three times he has been named the state's "overall best" writer by the Society of Professional Journalists. In...
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