Above photo by Megan Authement
At Home: OM Sanctuary
Story by Frances Figart | Photos by Paul M. Howey
Sometimes the best place to be is a home away from home. That is the vision behind Asheville’s Oshun Mountain (OM) Sanctuary, located on the property of the former Richmond Hill Inn overlooking the French Broad River. In fact, those involved sometimes write its name as “hOMe.”
Founded in 2012, OM Sanctuary is a nature-sensitive retreat center offering overnight stays, classes, lectures, trainings, and other programs. Its mission: To inspire healthy lifestyle practices through holistic education and connection with nature.
“When people have spent time living apart from the natural world, getting back into it is something of a homecoming,” says Shelli Stanback, the sanctuary’s founder and president. “We are here to help people of all ages, cultures, and income levels explore the connection between mind, body, spirit, and nature in relation to personal health and wellbeing.”
Shelli was inspired to create the nonprofit organization by the increasing number of people seeking holistic methods to improve health, reduce stress, and bring balance to their lives. She was searching for a campus setting when, after an unfortunate fire, the 54-acre Richmond Hill Inn property suddenly became available through bankruptcy in 2011.
“The time, effort, and historic legacy was standing in ruin and ashes and I envisioned a rising phoenix,” Shelli recalls. “The property had all the elements necessary for self-discovery and realignment and was a perfect match for our need for a central, accessible, and strikingly beautiful place.”
The 25-unit country inn, a Queen Ann style mansion built in 1889, came with a carriage house, croquet cottages, garden pavilion, and 41 undeveloped acres. After four years of cleanup and renovation, Shelli says the facelift is only half done.
Each of the 16 sanctuary rooms is unique and spacious and nine rustic cottages offer porches with rocking chairs. To reduce electromagnetic impact and distraction, there are no clocks, phones or televisions in the accommodations, which offer breathtaking views of nature and feature easy access to gardens and trails.
The carriage house has become a wellness center with a four-person sauna and two studios for classes. Still undergoing construction, the garden labyrinth incorporates a waterfall for walking meditation. With support from environmental nonprofit MountainTrue, invasive plants are being removed from trails, which will feature interpretive signage about native species. Future plans include eco-dorms and a combination teahouse and bookstore.
The sanctuary’s holistic retreat model embraces three-, five-, and seven-day immersion programs, trainings and certifications, as well as day-use opportunities and two-night-minimum retreats. Programs are tuition-based, with some offered by donation or scholarships.
Julie Parker, of Asheville, brought her fledgling Healing Cancer Naturally support group on retreat to OM Sanctuary just over a year ago. “Our group is for people who choose not to do chemo and radiation but rather use all the profound gifts that nature offers for healing,” Julie says. “OM Sanctuary provided an ideal incubator to nourish and grow the group, which has grown from four to 176 members.”
In 2015, the retreat center had approximately 4,500 program participants, with 92 percent staying overnight. “Their economic impact means more than $500,000 for Asheville businesses,” says executive director Jonathan Frappier, who adds that the nonprofit’s future success depends upon contributions from donors. “Our ongoing facility improvements and program development require support from the community.”
To offset its carbon footprint and to support preservation of undeveloped areas, last year OM Sanctuary protected its 41 forest acres through a conservation easement with Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy (SAHC). The tract contains pools that provide likely habitat for salamanders and its conservation helps protect tributary streams of the French Broad River watershed. “We were thrilled at the opportunity to protect this undeveloped, mature forest so near Asheville’s urban core,” says Carl Silverstein, SAHC’s executive director.
Shelli feels she is carrying on the legacy of her grandfather, who helped preserve property around one of the most pristine and unique lakes in Minnesota. She says the relationship between people and the environment should be a symbiotic one. “If we are going to improve health, we must also preserve nature.”
For more information, visit omsanctuary.org or contact Jonathan Frappier at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn about upcoming programs, join their Facebook page and sign up for the OM Sanctuary newsletter.