Creative minds construct fantasy fort

This article submitted by Erin Aagesen on 7/19/00.

"We're 20 years old, and we're still playing in the woods," said Ed Gardner with a chuckle. He and his lifelong friend, James Gulbranson, have taken childhood fantasy to an adult level.

The two have been constructing an elaborate fort on the Gardner's parent's property, complete with two levels of walkways, a zip cord, and a suspended gate. The center is an open area.

The entire complex is built into the natural landscape. It is surrounded by walls, made entirely out of woven sticks.

Gardner (left) and Gulbranson (right),both PAHS graduates who currently attend St. Cloud State University, began working on the project casually a couple years ago. They made a gate and the first level of the walkway then.

The draw-bridge type gate is at the entrance to the fort. It is supported, at the top, by a long piece of wood that lies across two trees. Coming down from that are long sticks. Still more sticks are woven in horizontally, creating the effect of a door.

The bottom of the gate is attached to a rope that goes through two pulleys and up to the first level walkway. From there, a person can pull on the rope to lift or lower the gate.

The first level walkway was constructed last year, but has since been rebuilt to replace rotting wood. Seven feet tall and 15 and a half feet long, it can be reached by climbing a ladder. Boards lie across live trees and posts that have been driven into the ground. Surprisingly sturdy, it has, according to Gardner, held up to eight people without difficulty.

Though they had toyed with these ideas earlier, it wasn't until this spring that they started working with regularity. Gardner and Gulbranson began brainstorming ideas, completing them, and moving on to the next.

"They're very creative young men," said Phyllis Gardner, mother of Ed. "We've had our whole house become the set for movies they made. The fort is outside; that is even better."

Gardner and Gulbranson did the bulk of the work themselves, but were also helped by Matt Gardner, Joe Halvorson, and Josh Ryan.

"We'll say, ‘What are we going to do next?', then we'll do that," said Gulbranson.

They cleared both a path to the fort, and the area for the fort itself. This meant cutting down trees and moving brush.

Next, they made the wall. They did this by weaving branches around live trees. The wall goes around the perimeter of the fort, and measures 34 33 feet. According to Phyllis, the idea of weaving branches came about when she refused to continue buying wood for them.

They also began working on a second level walkway that can be reached by a ladder on the first level. Gulbranson moved up the ladder as he built it, then reached as high as he could to place the boards in for the actual walkway. The walkway is 14 feet off the ground.

"That was dangerous," said Gardner. "It was mostly James balancing on a few boards."

The largest project was constructing a safe, workable zip cord.

"That was the biggest trouble we had of anything," said Gardner. In creating the zip, they split support boards, had bolts fly out, and fell from the first level walkway. In the end, however, they came up with something that works.

A cable line starts at the second level, wraps around a tree to get the correct angle, and runs down a path in the woods 50 feet long. To ride on it, a person stands on the first level, holds onto the handle bars, and lets go.

"It's safe, but not kid friendly," said Gardner.

They've added rocks at the entrance, tall citronella candles that look like torches in the dark, and a fire pit in the center for night bonfires.

Gardner especially enjoys the effect at night. "I think it's a great place to have friends over," he said.

Gulbranson agreed, "It's fun just to sit around the campfire and go down the zip."

Still more ideas float around for the fort. "I don't think it'll ever be done," said Gardner. "There's always something we can do to expand."

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