By RODNEY HO/ email@example.com, originally filed Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Zac Brown is a man who uses his imagination not just for his numerous No. 1 hits but in his charitable endeavors.
Spending millions of dollars of his income from his successful music career, the Atlanta native purchased 460 acres in Fayetteville five years ago to build out a massive non-profit space called Camp Southern Ground. After a soft opening last year, he plans to eventually serve thousands of children a year who are on the autism spectrum as well as military families with parents suffering from PTSD.
Brown this past summer hooked up with Animal Planet's Pete Nelson, who hosts the show "Treehouse Masters" to build a special treehouse in a season six finale that airs Friday night at 10 p.m.
Out of Brown's fertile mind, he came up with the idea of a futuristic horse-shoe "space crab" that resembles a "War of the Worlds" spaceship. At first, they tried to nestle it in some trees to make it a technical treehouse but Brown's needs for the clubhouse were too grand. So they decided instead to create a separate structure and embed the entranceway into the nearby oaks. There's even an anatomically correct stinger attached to the structure.
"It's going to be a heck of a finale," Nelson said in an interview in July when the treehouse was unveiled for the summer campers. "This is absolutely in the spirit of a treehouse. You are up in the arms of nature. And when you're at this elevation point, you're within the forest. The idea is you're in the woods. You're free of terrestrial bounds!"
Brown, in an email, wrote that he wanted "a space that would be elastic for use during camp, as well as a year-round think tank for developing and growing the absolute best programming we can."
The 1,300-square-foot treehouse will be used for kids but also has a special 12-person round meeting table Brown thought up so "thought-leaders in the fields of neurobehavioral disorders, nutrition, military respite, etc. can come together and discuss how Camp Southern Ground can be on the cutting edge of serving all of those groups." What's cool about the table is it is placed in the ceiling and can be dropped down with the push a button when necessary.
Brown, Nelson said, insisted the treehouse be built to outlast him so it's a steel structure with a protective zinc outer layer. "His message early on was 'Don't cut corners.' We want this to be around in 100 years. He doesn't want to put all his funds in maintenance and repair." It took the crew eight weeks to build with full electrical and plumbing and cost more than $500,000.
"The ramp cost as much as the actual structure," said Ben Ferguson, director of construction for Camp Southern Ground and the husband of Brown's sister Meredith since 1989."It's a very beefy structure."
Ferguson said this camp has been Brown's dream for many years. Brown was a camper and a camp counselor growing up and "it changed his life and put his life on a different trajectory.
On Brown's first date a decade ago with his wife Shelly before he became a big star, she remembers him telling her his dream of starting a camp for children. (Shelly grew up in Fayetteville.)
"He's now seeing that vision come to life," Ferguson said. Brown is hoping to raise $98 million for capital needs, reaching $28 million so far from donors and foundations.
"Zac has wild ideas," his wife said. "But he also follows through with them. His ideas are always geared to helping others. His creativity is geared to that as well."
Nelson, who is based in Fall City, Wash., has been building specialized treehouses for nearly 30 years. His show reveals his child-like wonder for glorious trees.
Camp Southern Ground is also accepting applications for fall weekend mini camps. For more information, readers can visit: http://www.campsouthernground.org/mini-adventure-camp
"Treehouse Masters," 10 p.m. Friday, Animal Planet