By Molly Campbell – Photos by GOREC and Three Tree Tents
Imagine sleeping in a tent suspended above the ground between three trees. Through the fine mesh ceiling, you can see the sky and the trees. At night there are hundreds of stars; in the morning, you see the sunrise. If it rains, there’s a rain canopy to keep you snug and dry, but if it’s fine, you can peel down the sides of the tent and let the noises of forest life lull you to sleep, feeling as if you’re in a treehouse from your childhood. And all of this without the hassle of setting up your tent and campsite.
This might sound like a dream, but it’s a reality only twenty minutes outside of Traverse City, at the Greilick Outdoor Recreation & Education Center (GOREC), the product of a collaboration between GOREC’s new executive director, Jamie Hedges, and David Leith, founder of Three Tree Tent, which he began in order to create Tentsile tent camping eco-campgrounds that allow people to explore and enjoy the beauty of northern Michigan in a way that is low impact for the environment, and high impact in their own lives.
“David’s Tentsile camping’s focus on outdoor experiences lines right up with what we’re trying to do, getting people outside and seeing things from new perspectives,” Jamie says. “These tents get people outside and create this unusual experience and put it right in the context of how to experience the outdoors but with such a low impact on the woods that it aligns perfectly with ‘leave no trace,’ which is the kind of education we’re actively bringing in right now.”
Both men came to this collaboration through serendipity. Jamie is a “Hoosier boy,” who went west in 2001. For a while, he ran an outdoor environmental program for a university in Arkansas, but when his wife got a tenure-track position at Grand Valley State University, the couple moved to Michigan. GOREC, which was a boy scout camp until about three years ago, was looking for a new executive director.
“Right about the time the boy scouts were leaving, I was coming to Michigan and looking for the next iteration of outdoor education and leadership for me, and this just opened up,” Jamie says.
David was born in Denver, Colorado. He grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan and later went to The Leelanau School in Glen Arbor. However, he has spent much of his adult life all over the US and other parts of the world. When he began to feel it was time to figure out where he truly wanted to be, he kept coming back to Michigan in his mind. “There’s something about the terrain here, and the mix of trees, the fresh water, the soft soil,” he says.
And then, when he returned, he found both romantic love and what he was meant to do with his life.
“I came back, just trying to figure out life and whatnot, and ended up reconnecting with my high school crush. We just got married last year,” David says. “There’s been a lot of this, right place at the right time stuff. This is where I’m supposed to be. It just took me 33 years to find it.”
David discovered Tentsile tents when he was looking to reignite his own passion for camping. But it wasn’t until his then-fiance, Caren, heard him talking to another man about the tents for nearly an hour that the idea to create Three Tree Tent was formed. “She just heard the excitement and passion in my voice,” he says. “She told me, ‘I think I know what you’re supposed to do with the rest of your life. You need to keep hanging out in the trees.’”
The Tentsile tents offer both comfort and ease; suspended as they are above the ground, there’s no need to worry about uneven terrain, uncomfortable stones, or lugging and setting up a cumbersome tent and sleeping pads. Instead of spending their time on set up, campers can drop their gear at their tent and head out immediately to explore.
And there is a lot to explore. On GOREC’s extensive acreage, there are hiking and mountain bike trails, a disc golf course, a climbing tower, archery and shooting ranges, water activities, and more. There are cabins and campgrounds for rent at reasonable prices, including the new Tentsile tents, and there are workshops on everything from kayaking to wilderness medicine, taught by both in-house instructors and a big volunteer base.
“When you tap into people’s passion and give them this venue to teach their skills and share their excitement—people are hungry for that,” David says. “That’s what we’re going to see next year here at GOREC, a lot of really cool things taught by people who are passionate about them.”
For more information about GOREC, visit www.greilick.org