SLADE, Ky. -- Imagine living in a treehouse, where every day you wake up to fog hovering over the ground, animals rustling about below and the sunlight piercing through a sea of leaves surrounding you.
It may sound like a childhood fantasy but that's exactly how 25-year-old Django Kroner spent three years of his life.
"I’ve been wanting to live in treehouses my whole life," said the Northside resident. "I don’t know where the original idea came from, but it’s been there the whole time."
After leaving Cincinnati to pursue rock climbing in the Red River Gorge, a national and historic landmark located just a few hours away in Slade, Kentucky, that attracts climbers, campers and backpackers from around the world, Kroner discovered his beloved Gorge in a new light.
"It opened up a lot of ideas about how I could see the rest of my life unfolding and treehouses just seemed like they needed to be in it," said Kroner.
Now Kroner, and his company The Canopy Crew, want others to experience the Gorge in a whole new way along with them.
A Tree's Eye View
After serving a year in AmeriCorps and building homes for Habitat for Humanity, Kroner wanted to pursue his dream of rock climbing. And he saw no better outlet than the Red River Gorge.
"As a rock climber, it’s one of the best places in the world. It’s this gem surrounded by these otherwise nature-thirsty cities," he said. "It’s not tapped out. There’s so much area that no one really goes to that it’s kind of like the perfect package."
VIDEO: Watch Kroner talk about living in the Red River Gorge for three years in the video above.
He spent his days apprenticing with a timber cabin builder in exchange for free room and board and would fill his evenings climbing and hiking before the sunset.
While Kroner loved being submersed in nature, he craved a more authentic experience. He decided to ditch his provided room and pitch a tent in the woods, where he spent the next few months living on the ground.
But after a rainy summer filled with bugs, critters, mold, a flooded tent and a close encounter with a Copperhead snake he found in his hiking boots one morning, Kroner was feeling defeated -- until he lay back down in his wet tent saw the sun peaking through the trees.
He decided to move up into the trees.
Kroner spent the next few months researching treehouses and then enlisted the help of a few friends to begin construction. Building on a friend's plot of land in the Gorge, Kroner and his crew constructed a primitive 10-by-12-foot structure suspended by aircraft cables that he called home for the next three years.
"I'd wake up in the morning and be like 'Oh, this is so nice,' or you’d hear a little noise in the middle of the night and there would be an owl in a neighboring tree or flying squirrel," he said. "You’d get exposed to a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t normally see if you were down on the ground."
He'd stay in the Gorge from about mid-March until at least the first snowfall of the year.
But after three years of living on and off in the treehouse, he knew he wanted to bring his passion for tree houses into the professional realm.
The Canopy Crew
"I knew to be a good treehouse builder I'd have to learn how to take care of trees," Kroner said.
He moved back to Cincinnati, where he began an apprenticeship with an arborist, learning the basics of tree health.
Drawing on his past work experience, Kroner said he finally developed a more realistic idea of what he wanted to do. So he created The Canopy Crew in November of 2013, a company that specializes in building residential treehouses and offers an array of tree services in both Cincinnati and the Red River Gorge.
But Kroner wanted to take his passion for treehouses one step further. He decided to build a treehouse village, giving people the opportunity to experience nature in the same way he lived.
"Something about the Gorge -- I can’t really put my finger on it but there’s something that feels really old and alive and it just breathes this nostalgia," Kroner said. "Even if you just come here for a little bit, when you come back for a little bit it just sinks really deep."
He took an ArtWorks CO.STARTERS course and was even the audience choice winner of the Big Pitch event in 2014, which awarded his company $5,000. He used the money to purchase his first plot of land in the Red River Gorge.
Since June, The Canopy Crew, which consists of about seven subcontractors from Cincinnati and the Red River Gorge, has been working to create the first tree house rental property in the Gorge.
"We've designed it in a way that will impact the trees as little as possible and really the best way to do that is to keep in mind that trees grow and they move, so all the hardware is dynamic," said Kroner.
The first treehouse, the Sylvan Float, is named for the old English word "Sylvan" for forest and "float" because of the natural boat-like sensation that Kroner said comes from being up in the swaying trees when the wind blows.
The Sylvan Float is designed to accommodate two people and will provide basic amenities, including a stove, heater, composting toilet and rain water collection. There's also a built-in hammock on the deck.
But for Kroner it's about the quality of the experience, not the quantity of the space.
"It’s not really about hanging out inside as it is about hanging out on the deck," he said.
The tree house will be operational by Oct. 1 and is already booked for that first weekend. Depending on the season, rental prices will range from $100 - $150 per night. But, as construction of the Sylvan Float comes to a close, The Canopy Crew is working on designs for the second treehouse to be built in the spring.
After all of his years in the Gorge, Kroner's favorite memories involve the sights and sounds of waking up among the trees. An experience he's hoping others can also now cherish.
"You get to know each tree individually by the way the morning light filters through its leaves. You may be lightly swayed back and forth as the breeze passes by. It is undeniably tranquil, I think because even as life begins to pick up in the forest floor you can just hide away and savor the morning up in the trees."
For more information on The Canopy Crew or tree house rentals visit http://thecanopycrew.com/.