Peter Bahouth didn’t set out to be known as the “leaf blower guy”, but it’s a mantle he is prepared to carry. “You know, you only get one thing. You only get one label. I used to be the Greenpeace guy then the tree house guy. Now I’m getting to be known as the leaf blower guy.”
Peter’s mother ignited his appreciation for the natural world. She would point out the miracle of a flower while noting that sometimes people don’t make it easy for the natural world to flourish. Those ideas informed his career path.
Peter worked for years to protect the environment as the Executive Director of Greenpeace and then the Ted Turner Foundation. “I was lucky, I got to travel around the world, see the worst places in the world, see the best places in the world.” His ideas about protecting the environment evolved when he found himself at home in Buckhead’s Springlake neighborhood. He began to think about small scale changes he could make in his community. “You know, if we can’t take care of the places around us. We’re not gonna take care of the big things.
His now-famous tree house helped to draw his attention to the natural world in his back yard. Peter listed his tree house suite on Airbnb when he heard that travelers were looking for unusual lodging options, but he didn’t have high expectations about renting a tree house in the middle of the city. Five years and 1800 guests later, his tree house is the most wished for Airbnb in the world, and it has been featured in countless articles and television shows. “I went from being an activist to just creating a nice little spot, and people ended up really enjoying it, which meant a lot to me.”
The guests who stayed in the tree house appreciated the design and craftsmanship of the tree house, but Peter realized there was more to it when he began to read entries in the guest book that one of his guests left for him. He saw that his tree house provided more than a unique lodging experience. “It’s just this feel, you know, a sanctuary. People getting out of their four walls and just being out. Just a tiny bit of nature, and they come out of here totally renewed.”
Peter began to get very protective of his sanctuary in the middle of Buckhead. He noticed a ubiquitous sound when he began to spend more time outside. The tree house is built within a stone’s throw of two different streets, and the raspy hum of gas-powered leaf blowers can be heard from blocks away.
The noise is not the only nuisance. The two-stroke engine in your average commercial leaf blower is not very efficient, so around 30-40% of the fuel is atomized into the atmosphere. Peter says a two-stroke engine isn’t legal for street or marine use, “but you can use it in your backyard to poison your kids.”
Peter set out to try to curb the use of leaf blowers in his neighborhood with mixed reactions from his neighbors. Most of his neighbors understand that he’s looking out for the neighborhood, even if they don’t agree with him, but some are downright hostile. Peter gives out a “Golden Rake” award to folks he sees using a rake to clear their yard, and he encourages homeowners to enjoy a few leaves on the lawn. Atlanta is known as the “city in the forest”, and he suggests that residents “Leave leaves alone.” and he continues, “There’s no litter in nature.”
Peter has written letters to his neighborhood association, published articles about the issue, and was recently invited to appear on Ralph Nader’s podcast to discuss it. A rake manufacturer sent him a case of rakes after hearing the podcast, but he hasn’t found much local support. There are 325 communities in the country that are trying to ban blowers, and Peter says the movement is slowly gaining momentum. He doesn’t mind being known as the “leaf blower guy” if he can make a positive difference in his community. “It’s not about going someplace and protecting nature. It’s protecting nature where you live.”