Highland Haven envisions honeymoon treehouse

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By Vicky Gits

Taking the concept of going green to a new height, owners of Highland Haven Creekside Inn have asked Jefferson County for a rezoning so they can build a romantic luxury treehouse for two.

Designed by Tolleson Architects of Evergreen, the treehouse would represent the first new building that the rustic creekside B&B has attempted in 28 years of continuous ownership.

The new honeymoon suite will be a large room, about 650 square feet, with a king-size bed, fireplace, flat-screen TV, Jacuzzi, two-person tub, deck in front and a wet bar.

“Like a high-end Hobbit house,” said Gail Riley, who has owned Highland Haven with her husband, Tom Statzell, for 28 years.

The price is to be determined, but rentals currently range from $130 to $350 a night.

The hideaway will be perched on four stilts made from either logs or something that looks a lot like logs. There will be parking underneath.

Until now, Riley and Statzell have been largely content to take aging structures and bring them back to life. But Riley said she has been dreaming of a treehouse for a long time.

In 1979, when the couple were 20-somethings and living in San Francisco, Highland Haven was a funky motel with full kitchens and burnt orange, harvest gold and avocado green counters, refrigerators and carpets.

“We stayed in Evergreen for a vacation and fell in love with the Highland Haven. Now there is nothing there that is original. Not a door or window is the same,” Riley said.

In February 2007, Highland Haven was named as one of the “top 10 hidden getaways” in the country.

She remembers when single rooms were $22 a night. “It might have been worn out and old, but it was clean.”

And winters were a struggle. “We never got a phone call all winter. We had a mortgage and huge bills. We struggled for a long time. We didn’t take a salary for eight years.”

Today their daughter and her husband work full-time managing the inn. Their son is studying architecture at CU-Boulder.

They’ve hosted Johnny Depp, David Schwimmer, Tim Allen, Mick Fleetwood, countless musicians from Red Rocks and the cast of MTV’s “Real World.” Gail has been contacted for an article about her Evergreen home in Colorado Homes and Lifestyle Magazine.

Situated on Highway 74 and Bear Creek off Independence Trail, behind Sheep’s Head Rock, Highland Haven is a hidden jewel with impeccable grounds, abundant plantings, a scenic waterway and unusual sandstone rock outcroppings.

On Sept. 10 the planning commission voted 6-1 to approve the treehouse and rezoning the 2-acre parcel for a planned-unit development that conceivably could include a spa and conference center. However, no more buildings other than the treehouse are on the drawing board.

The commissioners also added a condition that says any new or substantial replacement buildings must meet a minimum setback from the road of 10 feet. Some of the existing setbacks are as little as 4 feet. The owners were also asked to submit a parking plan for 42 cars.

The project goes to the board of county commissioners for final approval Sept. 23.

Highland Haven Creekside Inn today consists of 17 units that can sleep 50 people at full occupancy. Three cottages are duplexes.

The main cabin was built as a summer retreat in 1884 by John Dailey, a printer who was a co-founder of the Rocky Mountain News. Other summer cabins were built near Dailey’s, and in the ‘60s the properties were combined to become the summer-only motel Highland Haven.

The inn has won many accolades in recent years, including the prestigious Sunset magazine Top 10 Hidden Getaways, Best Romantic Cottages.