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Playground vandalized

Tree house new to Mosquito Hill

By Scott Bellile

Someone has vandalized a children’s tree house that was donated to Mosquito Hill Nature Center by a teen cancer survivor.

At the center’s newly added “natural playscape,” eight wooden styles supporting a safety rail were smashed off an elevated deck. Until the styles can be restored, the tree house is closed to the public.

“The up and down styles on the railing on one end of it were kicked out,” Mosquito Hill Nature Center Director Mike Hibbard said. “So right now there’s no safety rail, so we had to close it so kids can’t get up into it because they’d be able to fall off of that deck area.”

The vandalism likely occurred the first week of April, Hibbard said. A visitor alerted a staff member of the damage on April 8.

Nature center staff do not know who is responsible for the damage. The only evidence left behind was cigarette butts inside the tree house.

There was no security camera set up. Staff plan to install a trail camera moving forward, Hibbard said.

“The disappointing part is the project isn’t even totally complete yet and it’s already being vandalized,” Hibbard said.

Sixteen-year-old Storm Handrich of the town of Mukwa transplanted the tree house from his backyard to Mosquito Hill’s natural playscape last November. The effort was part of his Eagle Scout Service Project.

He got the idea for the project back in 2015 when he learned that Mosquito Hill wanted an outdoor tree house. He happened to have one to contribute.

In 2008, 7-year-old Handrich was suffering from a brain tumor. The Make-A-Wish Foundation gifted him the materials and plan for a pirate boat tree house. His family built the structure at home.

Having outgrown the tree house, he took it apart and rebuilt it at Mosquito Hill so a new generation of children could enjoy it.

His mother Jessi Handrich said the vandalism happened before anybody really got to play on the tree house.

“It was kind of shocking,” she said. “It was very disappointing.”

Storm Handrich learned of the damage in an email from the nature center Friday, April 21. The news was unexpected.

“I did not feel good at all,” he said Monday, April 24. “I had a really hard time sleeping last night, too, seeing all the work that was put into it just to be smashed.”

His father Bob Handrich added, “It was pretty devastating for Storm. That’s been a big part of his life for a long time. He was definitely taking that pretty hard last night. Now we’re going to have to try and figure out where to get some of them parts from.”

The styles were crafted from the staves of an old wine barrel, so a specialized wood, perhaps hard to find, is needed to repair them, Bob Handrich said.

Storm Handrich was set to return to work on the tree house in May regardless of the damage because he needs to finish shingling and staining it. But he anticipates the added workload will delay his achieving the Eagle ranking.

Hibbard said the nature center hopes to repair the railing styles by the first week of May. People planning to bring kids to play on the playscape should first call the nature center at 920-779-6433 to check that the tree house is reopened and the conditions are not muddy.

How to help
Hibbard said the repairs will mainly involve labor and not so much money. However, there are several ways people can help:

• The nature center needs several wine barrels to extract staves for rebuilding the railing styles.

• If barrels do not come through, the nature center will need to purchase some. The center will accept monetary donations. Any money beyond the cost for materials would go toward future playscape improvements.

• The public can also contribute to the general playscape expansion effort by attending an antique and vintage item auction this weekend. “Cash in Your Attic” takes place at the nature center Saturday, April 29, from 5 to 10 p.m. Admission is $40 per person or $75 per couple.

People can take any of these steps by calling Mosquito Hill Nature Center at 920-779-6433.

“Storm’s project was just part of an overall project that we’re going to continue to improve upon over the next year or so,” Hibbard said.

So far, the playscape is comprised of the tree house, two crawling tunnels and some stepping stones. Whereas the current tree house is geared toward younger children, the plan calls for a second tree house that would fit large groups of kids and adults and perhaps be used for educational classes.

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