Tom Clyde: Let kids be kids, and let them build treehouses
May 19, 2018
The reverberations from the mysterious platform built in Daly Canyon continue. The story is that somebody, presumably kids rather than hobos, had built a sturdy deck up in the woods above Daly Avenue, and had been "hanging out" there. God forbid. There was also a campfire pit, suggesting that kids might be gathering there and having a bonfire while sitting on the deck admiring the view without benefit of a building permit. Aside from the risk of setting the whole town on fire, which could become an issue as things dry out, it seemed pretty harmless. It was on private property, which is the case with about everything around here. We all treat the surrounding mountains like National Forest, but it's not. It's all private land, and the owner may not have been all that happy to have kids building decks on his land. But that wasn't the big concern.
The deck had been built without a building permit. It is an accessory use, which would technically need to be built with or after the primary use on the land. It probably required a conditional use permit from the Planning Commission. It's hard-surface, so the City would assess the gravity tax, I mean the storm drainage fee, to pay for managing the rainwater runoff from the deck. The fees alone would amount to several thousand dollars. That's money that could be spent on consultants studying ways to encourage kids to get outside more. No engineer had signed off on the structural design, and the whole operation was built by unlicensed contractors and is in flagrant violation of the CC&Rs. It wouldn't take much to push this to felony charges.
What's next? Painting graffiti all over the inside of the tunnel under S.R. 224? Oh, wait, that already happened, with a public arts grant and a consultant brought in from New York. As an aside, I went out to see the new public art in the tunnel. Having some color in the concrete tunnel certainly adds some life to it, but it's no Banksy.
Anyway, the alarm over the unpermitted deck construction is one of those things that shows how the community has changed. In the beginning, Park City was entirely unpermitted. The mining claims were established under federal law, but the town just happened. The Park City Townsite Company finally ended up with title to the land, and forced everybody to buy the land they had been squatting on for years. The randomness and spontaneity of it all used be one of the appealing aspects of Park City. Clown Day just happened. There was no permit, and no consultant retained to organize the event (which might have been a good idea, in retrospect).
The alarm over the unpermitted deck construction is one of those things that shows how the community has changed.”
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What are now known as "free-range" kids used to just be kids, and exploring the mountains around town was what they did. Now Utah's legislature felt the need to provide legal protection to parents of free-range kids, specifically stating that kids allowed to play in the woods are not being neglected and subject to being taken into foster care.
When I was growing up, my friends and I all had ToteGotes, little dirt bikes powered by lawnmower engines. We ranged miles from home, exploring all the canyons around the ranch. We built treehouses, rope swings, and forts all over the place, and dammed up swimming holes on side channels of the river. The only limit was our own imagination and the ability to haul materials to remote locations. My cousin and I built a treehouse with several rooms. I remember it as being a model of craftsmanship, and was stunned when I came across a photo of it. It was an eyesore, and even in the photo, it looks structurally unsound. But other than a few smashed thumbs while learning to use a hammer, and some blood donated to our first efforts with a saw, there were no serious injuries. There was a lot of learning that happened along the way, too.
As the population grows, it is more difficult to find a place to build a secret treehouse that isn't in somebody else's back yard. My sister's grandkids decided to build one that turns out to be in my yard. It's ugly as sin, but I can't see it from my house because it's hidden in the woods. They had a blast building it. I wasn't wild about letting them borrow my chainsaw, but told them that anything in the tub of miscellaneous hardware was fair game. I feel a little better about them climbing on it with some big lag bolts holding it together instead of the 8-penny finish nails they were planning to use.
But any time kids will put down the electronics and actually go outside and make contact with nature, it's a good thing. Maybe we need a new nonprofit to make treehouse grants.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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