Alumna's Dream of Fox-Inspired Treehouse Becomes Reality
January 16, 2024 — Marist's distinctive Red Fox mascot stands as a source of pride for the entire College community, but one alumna has elevated this enthusiasm to new heights—literally.
Heidi Richards '08, is a Marist graduate whose imagination, creativity, and enthusiasm for her alma mater led her to build the Copper Fox, a treehouse shaped like a fox's head perched in the heart of the picturesque landscape in Pownal, Maine.
The former runner for the Marist track and cross country teams drew inspiration from her days on the Poughkeepsie campus. The Red Fox became a muse for the project.
"The first response to people's reactions that comes to my mind is 'I promise I'm not obsessed,' but I feel like that's a hard argument to make now," Heidi said. "Being a three-season athlete at Marist had a great influence on my attachment to our mascot. I would not be into foxes if I wasn't a Marist Red Fox."
Heidi and Nicholas work on construction of the treehouse. Photo courtesy of Heidi Richards '08.
Now a social worker residing in Maine, Richards merged her passion for the environment with her creative spirit to initiate the construction of the treehouse. This not only complements the local landscape but also underscores her commitment to environmental stewardship.
“When I started at Marist, I was actually an Environmental Science major hoping to get into environmental conservation of some sort,” she said. “I ended up changing majors but my passions around living lightly on the land and doing everything I can in my daily choices to decrease my environmental impact have continued.”
The inspiration struck after Heidi discovered a pair of large windows on Craigslist. A vision came to Heidi in a dream in which the windows appeared to her as the ears of a fox. Following her nocturnal imagination, she sketched her vision on paper and shared it with her husband, Nicholas, who embraced the idea of shaping the structure like a fox’s head. The fox became the focal point of a genuinely unique and meaningful design.
Nicholas was intrigued by the concept from the outset, and while assembling it posed challenges, it proved to be a fun and rewarding project.
“When designing it we just took each section step by step and built out the layers of the fox individually,” he said. “It was time-consuming and stressful trying to figure out how to make everything work cohesively and structurally.”
In the end, “It became fun again once we started the hands-on building phase,” he said.
The treehouse’s fox-inspired shape begins to take form. Photo courtesy of Heidi Richards '08.
About 85% of the wood used in the construction of the 520-square-foot treehouse was locally sourced from trees within 30 miles of the site. Heidi and Nicholas also utilized recycled materials and sustainably managed construction by-products to further minimize waste. The house, designed to accommodate five to six people, is powered by solar panels and insulated with hemp wool, contributing to an eco-friendly footprint.
"We wanted to finish this project knowing that we did everything we could to ensure the health and well-being of our guests, of our little plot of Maine woods, and of our planet," said Heidi.
From Heidi's parents painting and installing windows, to Nicholas' mother crafting cushions and pillows, to neighbors contributing artwork, a motivated team of friends and family helped turn the dream of the Copper Fox Treehouse into a reality.
Heidi Richards gives a smile and two thumbs up as she works on the treehouse’s construction. Photo courtesy of Heidi Richards '08.
The house is available to rent through their website and Airbnb, but Heidi and Nicholas envision it may become part of their private residence in the future.
"Now that I'm not a student-athlete at Marist, the fox is still with me always," Heidi said. "I loved my time at Marist, and it has guided and shaped me as a person in more ways than one."