If one day you happen to be hiking through the remote highlands at the edge of Costa Rica’s Monteverde Cloud Forest, you might stumble upon a cabin that jogs memories of New England.
“We slavishly copied a design from a cabin that we built in Vermont,” says David Hooke ’84 of the casita ("small house"). Hooke is a co-founder of TimberHomes Vermont, a company that has built stunning post-and-beam structures around the Northeast (including sections of the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge). Along with the TimberHomes crew, Hooke has also led hands-on timber framing workshops with Dartmouth alumni to build several Moosilauke class bunkhouses.
In March, Hooke and TimberHomes co-owner Shannon McIntyre led a weeklong volunteer excursion with Dartmouth alumni, family, and friends to construct this further-flung cabin. Set along Costa Rica’s Sendero Pacifico, a long-distance hiking trail that stretches from the Monteverde Cloud Forest to the Gulf of Nicoya on the Pacific coast, the casita will eventually house researchers, workers, and an information center for visitors, all of which will support a rural community dependent on ecotourism.
With local wood and some old tools brought “back to life,” Hooke says, it was simple enough to build. Back in the 1950s the San Luis area had been settled by draft-evading Quakers who planted pine-like ciprés trees. “It’s a fairly soft wood, and it’s aromatic, with a sweet smell almost like Juniper,” says Hooke. Constructing one of TimberHomes’ signature frames with ciprés was straightforward for the crew, and locals were happy to harvest the non-native plant to curtail its spread.
The building group—which also included Arlo Frost ’78, Henry Frost ’15, Gerben Scherpbier ’14, Victoria Allen ’06, Andrew Pillsbury ’15, and several family members—contributed 506 volunteer hours toward The Call to Serve during the trip.
Frost had already volunteered with Hooke and the TimberHomes crew to build the Class of 1978 bunkhouse at Mount Moosilauke in 2018. When he heard of the chance to build another timber-frame structure—this time in Costa Rica, where he’d traveled for his FSP as an undergraduate—signing up was a “total no-brainer,” he says.
Frost cites the comradery that develops when a band of strangers builds together. “You’re sometimes raising beams that weigh 300 or 400 pounds, so you have to be cooperating,” he says. “It’s quite the adventure.”
From mornings shrouded in Cloud Forest fog, to sunny afternoons, to a final evening assembling rafters while donning headlamps, the crew managed to raise the frame in a week. “Few of us had significant experience with that type of construction, but under the guidance of David and two others, we were able to make it happen,” Frost says.
“It was just the bare bones of the structure, but we could see what it was going to look like,” he adds. “It was really special to know it will benefit the trail, as well as the community of San Luis.”