“We have set out to create something that has not been done before,” Amanda Jensen writes to Consensus, “people want an experience, not just a place to stay.” The Jensen family is creating just that.
Amid the wooded landscape of East Tennessee, the Jensen family has embarked on a journey to develop an eco-friendly getaway unlike any other: a comfortable, interactive, and sustainable treehouse resort for families and groups of all ages.
The Sanctuary Treehouse Resort will be the largest treehouse resort in the world, with the property sprawling 40 acres and offering an impressive 130 individual treehouse rentals. Located in Sevierville, the soon-to-be resort is just North of America’s most visited National Park, the Great Smoky Mountains, providing the perfect access point to some of the best nature trails, waterfalls, and scenic overlooks that Mother Nature has to offer.
The founders and creators of this natural-luxe concept are Brian and Amanda Jensen and their four children. Local Servier residents keenly understand the pristinely maintained land’s value and the outstanding adventures that can provide children and adults alike. Sanctuary is being built for adventurous families.
Jensen says one of the best parts of the project so far has been how the entire family has contributed, “We wanted to make sure we included our kids’ thoughts and ideas,” she recalled to Consensus. “Family is a priority, and showing our kids what we can create together has been a blessing.”
Amanda and Brian have created other unique and nature-centric hospitality experiences in the past and have seen tremendous success. The well-known Gatlinburg SkyCenter at the top of the Gatlinburg SkyLift, the Sanctuary Villas – unique cabin accommodations that they sold to Wilderness Wildpark two years ago, a local business that they opened in Gatlinburg in 2013.
“We set out to build six to ten treehouses on our property several years ago,” Amanda says. The 40 acres they purchased for the Sanctuary Treehouse Resort are close to where the family currently lives. They soon heard about plans for apartments or cabins to be put on the plot by multiple large-scale developers. The project would have involved “scalping” the mountainside for construction, another term for harsh and widespread deforestation. Amanda and Brian began to research and learned that the largest treehouse development in the world was 17 structures. Not far from their original goal, Amanda tells me that she knew the forty acres they could secure offered grounds for far more than 17 treehouses. At the center of the ambitious project was their desire to maintain as much of the Smoky Mountains region as possible while making them accessible to an increasing number of visitors (a record-breaking 19 million people visited in 2021). “We knew that we wanted to build within the topography of the land and preserve the aesthetics and wildlife there,” Amanda explained.
The renderings for the emerging resort reflect adults’ practicality and refined taste, while also incorporating the creativity, exploration, and jubilance known to anyone who explored treehouses as a child. Above all though, the resort uses sustainable building techniques and adaptive design to make the treehouses as adhesive to the surrounding environment as possible.
“Building with renewable and recyclable resources and materials is important to us,” Amanda explains in a statement to Consensus. During its construction, Sanctuary has striven to keep in place as much forestry as possible, despite some obvious development. Even where development is necessary, though (think: access ramps, structures, roofing), the Jensens are using materials that match the surrounding environment – a stark contrast to the likely product of apartment development. Amanda says the building process has “taken great care in reducing waste and energy consumption where possible to protect the natural environment,” adding that they aim to build as sustainably as possible.
Day-to-day operations at the resort are eco-conscious. Renewable alternatives are used throughout, and recycled materials help reduce reliance on natural resources. No cars are allowed on the property, and solar-powered golf carts solely provide transportation. To preserve wildlife and vegetation on the acreage, guests are asked to leave their furry friends back home.
The Jensen kids have been pivotal in aiding a design that is an authentic and sought-after treehouse experience, their mom says. Major selling points that provide an undeniable sense of place include pulley systems, rope swings, slides, ladders, lookout holes, and floor hatches. The whimsical treehouse designs are careful not to compromise luxury, offering cozy fireplaces, outdoor hot tubs and bathtubs, bamboo showers, and king-sized beds.
In a world where overdevelopment and underappreciation of nature run wild, the Jensens may have found a way to walk the line. Sanctuary is currently in its first phase of construction, and six treehouses are planned to accept reservations by this fall. The remaining 124 treehouses and amenities and necessary infrastructure are slated to be completed in four years or less.
“We’re working through our own impatience,” Amanda says, but she says it will be worth the wait to create exactly what the Jensens, and many soon-to-be visitors alike, imagine.