Sacramentan marketing treehouses in Costa Rica

Sacramentan Thomas Dodson can’t chill out in an air-conditioned office when days get hot or pressure at his new job marketing treehouses in the Costa Rica rainforest heats up.

His bosses tell him to go jump in the river. And they’re likely to join him.

One of the perks at Finca Bellavista, which is billed as the world’s first treehouse community, is living and working in a remote, pristine mountain setting fed by the Rio Bellavista. They can use "sky trails," a zipline network, to get around and cool off in the river anytime it gets too hot, Dodson said.

"We’ve got a great waterhole just down the hill," he said Monday via Skype.

The 37-year-old was working in marketing for the architecture firm Lionakis when a coworker sent him a link to Finca Bellavista. Impressed, he contacted the owners, Erica and Matt Hogan. The contact turned into a short-term job offer to handle marketing for the community. Dodson is the main point of contact for the media.

Dodson said he’s using all the skills he’s developed throughout his career to help publicize the new community, which is in the beginning building stages.

After attending Coastal Carolina University, Dodson started his career in TV news. He worked for 10 years as a photojournalist and producer at stations in South Carolina, Boise and Seattle before he and his then-wife moved to Sacramento in 2004 to be near her family.

Dodson worked at Fox40 news and then transitioned into print by working as an associate editor at Comstock’s magazine for a year and a half. He then became the public relations manager for the residential architecture firm, BSB Design.

Dodson did marketing for Lionakis and another Sacramento architecture firm, ANOVA Architects. He worked on projects to promote the use of energy-efficient design, sustainable architecture and LEED certification for buildings. He also did social media work at ANOVA, where he set up and managed the firm’s Facebook page.

At his new job, he may also put to use some modeling skills he’s picked up in the last year or so.

In 2010, while working at ANOVA, Dodson was discovered by Chandra Bourne, the owner of Cast Images Talent Agency in Sacramento. He was actually attending a fashion show at the Mix Downtown at the time.

"Chandra walked up to me and asked me if I’d ever done any modeling before. I said, ‘No.’ I thought she was drunk," he said.

Dodson worked as a model in photo shoots for magazines, websites and catalogs. He was featured in a Kindle ad on Sacramentans can still see him in TV ads currently running for Atlantis Casino Resort Spa.

Modeling has been just a side job. But Dodson appreciated the work because he said the construction industry has suffered in Northern California for several years.

"It’s been an industry in transition because of the economy. A lot of ups and downs," he said.

Dodson traveled to Costa Rica about two weeks ago with East Sacramentans Cheri Davis and Ted Frink. They’d already bought a lot at Finca Bellavista and had traveled back and forth between the two countries five times.

Dodson described the 300-acre community as a "magical place" where treehouses are built as high as 90 feet in the air. There’s no electricity, but there is running water. People buy lots and then build treehouses to match their needs.

One of the ideas behind Finca Bellavista was to simplify lifestyles that have grown far too complicated, Erica Hogan said.

"I think somewhere along the line, we’ve overcomplicated everything, from our drinking water to our electricity to our lifestyle choices," she said.

The community is centered around a basecamp built at an old rock quarry in Costa Rica’s south Pacific coastal region. The basecamp now has an office, community center and other support buildings. Waterfalls and two whitewater rivers run through an area teeming with birds and other wildlife.

"Imagine the Ewok Village from ‘Return of the Jedi.’ It’s sort of like that," Dodson wrote in an email.

Davis and Frink, who live near McKinley Park, had been planning to build a home "off the ground" in another sustainable tropical community in Costa Rica. But they were captivated by Finca Bellavista’s treehouse community concept when they read about it in Outside magazine three years ago.

"If nothing else, we thought, we should go check out the competition!" Davis emailed late Monday afternoon. "I stepped out of the car, I took one look at the fern-lined river canyon, and told my husband ‘I want to be a part of this!’ ”

Now they plan to build on a lot measuring about 1.25 acres.

"Lot size really isn’t a big deal here, because it’s all about the trees – and there are more than you can count on each lot!" Davis wrote.

She and her husband hope to build in phases as money permits. They’ll start on a compact 600- to 700-square-foot central house with a large deck in the next few years. They’ll then add bedrooms as satellites off the main house, she said.

"Until then, we will continue to come here every year to see the progress (and) enjoy the peaceful setting," she said.

Challenges involved with building and working there include the extra time it takes to buy construction materials like high-quality screws used to build wooden treehouses, get a telephone installed or get insurance, Finca Bellavista owner Erica Hogan said.

Most communication is done by email or via computer using Skype because it’s so hard to get a strong, consistent phone signal. An antenna/amplifier can help strengthen signals for cell phones and Internet service at basecamp and treehouses. But sometimes when a call must be made, it can only be done by climbing up high into a treehouse to get a cell phone signal, she said.

Dodson is now working under a three-month contract and he said that may be extended. His two children live in Sacramento, the place he considers to be his permanent home in the United States.

"The sky’s the limit here, so I can see this carrying forward for a long, long time," he said. 


Suzanne Hurt is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow her on Twitter @SuzanneHurt.

Conversation Express your views, debate, and be heard with those in your area closest to the issue. RSS Feed

April 26, 2011 | 12:27 PM

This is such an amazing idea! i would love the chance to visit, let alone live in a treehouse community.

April 26, 2011 | 3:43 PM

Wow, so cool! I’d love to live in a tree house. But what about the snakes? Neat story.

April 26, 2011 | 5:11 PM

Sky trails? Genius!

April 26, 2011 | 5:19 PM

Thanks for the love, Suzanne. I’ve run out of adjectives to describe it. Anyone who wants to see it can visit Or… you can go to any American Eagle store in the country. The entire summer collection was shot here.
And, slight clarification, there IS electricity in the units. Just not the staff unit I am currently in.
Thanks again!

April 27, 2011 | 6:26 AM

and you can follow my blog here:

Profile photo of pat
April 29, 2011 | 4:09 PM

Without the photos and before completing the article my imagination could only envision a very scary picture of life high in the trees. The photos show a very pleasant yet laid back kind of life in beautiful surroundings for someone yearning for a less stressful life. Perfect for retirement, or even a vacation home, in paradise.

Profile photo of jat
May 3, 2011 | 11:30 AM

Are there legal restrictions on building and activities to protect the environment? What if someone decides they don’t like snakes and wants to kill them all? What about pesticides? I hope buyers are required to sign documents that state plainly nature comes first.

May 19, 2011 | 1:58 PM

there are a lot of environmental standards that must be adhered to. if you visit you can read about some.

May 25, 2011 | 11:35 PM

“The sky’s the limit here, so I can see this carrying forward for a long, long time,” he said. That’s catchy!! I say this guy is worth his pay, or do they pay in bananas there? Give this guy more bananas!! Also- a very tall tree so he can get proper internet connection. The guy lives on internet feed!! =)

May 25, 2011 | 11:36 PM

Also- it’s newbs.

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