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Residents work to save 'Raccoon Lodge' in Port Townsend

Kevin Mason turned an old stump into a home for woodland creatures as a form of therapy during his cancer treatment. Now, the city is concerned it could be a hazard.

PORT TOWNSEND, Wash. — The "Raccoon Lodge," as it has become known, began as a therapeutic project when Kevin Mason was undergoing cancer treatments earlier this year.

"Ideally, I just thought after it's all done and all the construction is through one day I'd see a squirrel poking its head out the window or even a raccoon," said Mason, 75.

Directly outside Mason's house once stood a 150-year-old cypress tree with a massive 52-foot circumference. It came down a few years ago. All that was left was what Mason calls a "sad stump."

An accomplished career carpenter, Mason built into the trunk a whimsical house for the creatures who once called the tree home.

Like a page out of a Shel Silverstein children's book, the sad stump was making people happy again.

"I've seen that time and time again where people drive by and they smile," said Mason. "It's a gift of love to my neighborhood and to my community."

But the 24-foot-tall structure stands in the public right of way and poses a potential risk to people walking by.

"The structure there is possibly a threat of falling down," said City Manager John Mauro. "Heaven forbid something happens where the structure falls, hurts somebody, or damages property."

The city gave Mason until November 30th to remove the Raccoon Lodge.

But a petition signed by more than 2,600 people has gotten the attention of City Hall.

Mauro says Port Townsend prides itself on being an arts-friendly community. Much of the city is designated as a "creative district" through a partnership with the Washington State Arts Commission.  

"Creative expression is important to me and to our town," said Mauro.

Port Townsend is now considering allowing Mason to gift or loan the artwork to the city which would assume liability -- for the sake of preserving a piece of public art that has touched many in the town.

"If that's one of the creative solutions where we as a community decide this is a structure that matters to our community from a public art point of view, and we want to keep it safe -- it's in the right of way -- we're open to that because that's part of our ethos," said Mauro.

But that's just a proposal, and it's a process.

First, an expert would have to be hired to make sure the tree trunk is safe and sound. The Raccoon Lodge would then be reviewed by the city's arts commission.

Then, Mason and the city would try to figure out a way for ownership of the artwork to be transferred. 

Mason says the city has granted him an extension of the original deadline to after the first of the year. 

He is willing to remove the Raccoon Lodge.

Mason worries all the stress is impacting his cancer recovery and he just wants to live in peace.

"All I was trying to do was at the end of this tree's life to bring a little bit of life back to it," he said. "That was important to me." 


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