As soon as her safety harness is clipped in place, Alanna Hofer starts to climb. Without hesitation, the 13-year-old pushes her full body weight on to her foot loop, stands up and slides the hitch knot higher. Stand up, slide the knot, stand up, slide the knot. The repetitive action quickly takes her 50 feet above the ground and into the canopy of an oak tree.


An avid tree climber, Alanna isn’t a stranger to sitting among the foliage but this was her first climb using a rope and harness system. Nothing like the rope climb in gym class, this is a sophisticated system that requires knowledge of climbing equipment and knot tying expertise and is the basis of business at EarthJOY Village.


Owned and operated by Bill and Shelly Byrne, EarthJOY Treehouse Adventures in Germantown, Kentucky takes climbing beyond its typical audience of children playing in their backyards and hardcore nature enthusiasts. Using a double rope technique and adding layers of safety, the pair give essentially anyone willing to try the chance to climb to the top and see nature from a new perspective. Climbers, who are secured in a saddle harness and safety helmet, are taught how to move the knots in sequence to ascend and descend safely.


“This is fun,” Alanna proclaims to no one in particular after reaching the top well before the others in her group, which includes her grandfather, Paul Hauwiller.


“She loves to climb so I found something we could do together,” says Hauwiller who, sweetly calls her “squirrel” throughout their climb.


Bringing people together and providing a way for them to appreciate the outdoors was the goal of Bill and Shelly Byrne when they opened EarthJOY in 2007. An engineer and physical therapist, respectively, the pair bonded over their love of the outdoors and spent much of their time together seeking out adventures that would allow them to convene with nature.


“As soon as the weekend came, we sought out anything we could do for fun and recreation,” says Shelly. “We were staying at a lodge while we were whitewater rafting and I read an article on tree climbing and I just knew.”


The pair traveled to Tree Climbers International in Atlanta to learn not only how to climb, but how to safely facilitate climbs for novices and teach others to become instructors. Bill regularly facilitates climbs at festivals across the country and locally at Ft. Thomas’ Tower Park. But most of the climbs he oversees today are held on the EarthJOY property. He most often leads families or groups of friends looking for a new adventure, but the climbs are also used as team building activities for businesses.


For some, like Alanna, the climb is easy. For others, it takes more effort and patience. The Byrnes call it a challenge by choice. Climbers decide how high to climb and what to do when they reach their desired elevation. Some just hang out, letting the harness and hitch hold them in place; others lie in hammocks, swing in tree chairs or learn to surf branches, all while they get to know the other adventurous people climbing around them.


After enjoying the view from the canopy, Alanna is ready to descend and try another rope with another view. It only takes a few words from Bill to convince her to try it upside down. With some simple instructions, she rotates her body and lets go, easily and slowly sliding to the bottom.


“That is awesome,” shouts fellow climber Annie Maxam, 14, who has reached a net platform about 30 feet off the ground and is pushing off it to swing out to the other trees. Though the girls only met just before the climb, they shout encouragement to one another and others in the group, including Annie’s dad and uncle, Bill and Bob Maxam.


“We always try to do something fun and adventurous when we get together,” says Bill Maxam of Cincinnati. He learned of EarthJOY and its tree climbing opportunities at a silent auction. He knew it would be a perfect outing for him, his brother and Annie.


“He always tries to surprise me,” responds Bob, who lives in Indianapolis.


Many visitors to EarthJOY come from within a few hours of the property, though others come from across the country or even further. Bill recently taught a class for a group from Korea who plan to open their own tree climbing business. He also teaches primitive skills classes to those wanting to learn how to live off the land.


For those wanting a bit more convenience to their outdoor living, EarthJOY also offers treehouses for rent.


“I said, ‘You know, we’ve got to add tree houses into this,’” says Shelly. With more than 200 acres of land, they had the space and, thanks to a treehouse workshop taught by arborist Pete Nelson the couple attended in 2007, they had a connection. Nelson, who hosts Treehouse Masters on Animal Planet, built their first treehouse. Today they have three.


“They are like having three different kids. They are all lovely and they shine in their own way,” Shelly says of the treehouses. “I cannot commit to a favorite. It depends on the day and who I’m staying with. It depends on what I’m needing.”


The Pete Nelson is a spacious two-story with large barn doors that open to the outside. The Aliyah provides a more whimsical space with a large red oak growing through the living room floor and a swinging bridge leading to a separate bedroom. The third and smallest of the three was built by Bill himself. Designed with small children in mind, it features a double loft, a wrap-around deck and a tunnel slide to the ground where you will also find swings and hammocks. Each treehouse has electricity and air conditioning for those who want more of the comforts of home, a kitchenette, a fire pit and access to hiking trails


“I like the unusual. I wanted to do a round house and when I was searching, I found treehouses and then I found this place,” says Judy Cain, who stayed in the Pete Nelson treehouse for a long weekend with her husband, Michael, and their three dogs. “We wanted a place where we could bring the dogs, get away from people and unplug.”