ASHLAND – Imagine lying on a king sized bed, looking up at the stars as wolves howl in the distance and owls hoot as they fly up and down the valley. All while safely ensconced in an all-weather dome, surrounded by hotel-type amenities such as a shower and kitchenette.
“It’s a little different feel when you’re that close to nature,” said Chris Petersen as he describes Kimberly Creek Retreat, located eight miles southeast of Ashland in Cass County.
The retreat opened this summer with three ways to enjoy “glamping,” a new term coined to describe “glamorous camping.” Glamping has gained popularity across the country in recent years, as people want to enjoy the outdoors without really roughing it, said Petersen.
“It’s a luxury hotel room in the woods,” Petersen said.
This form of upscale camping has come into vogue in the last decade or so, according to various internet sites. The term “glamping” was first used in the United Kingdom in 2005, according to Merriam-webster.com, which defines glamping as “outdoor camping with amenities and comforts (such as beds, electricity and access to indoor plumbing) not usually used when camping.”
Petersen said many American glamping sites provide tents or teepees with a four-poster bed and a dresser. Few have the amenities they provide at Kimberly Creek Retreat, such as running water, a full shower, heating and air conditioning, a small kitchen furnished with dishes and silverware, a private fire-pit with seating and a grill.
The idea of providing such a luxurious setting came from Petersen’s wife, Martie, who isn’t a fan of regular camping.
“I’m not going to a communal toilet,” she told her husband.
The Petersen’s embarked on the project as a way to stay active after retirement and remain in their rural home.
“We love it out here so much we thought, ‘How can we find a way to make this work in retirement?’” Petersen said.
Petersen bought the cedar-covered property situated between Pawnee and West Branch creeks 23 years ago, but did not move out to the land until 2001. For the retreat, he acquired more land.
The site is perfect for a recreational venue. With its proximity to major tourist attractions like Mahoney State Park, Platte River State Park, Wildlife Safari Park, Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum.
“The real thing that makes this work is the location,” Petersen said.
The retreat’s tranquil atmosphere also works in contrast to the hubbub and traffic at these popular spots, Petersen said.
“It’s a much more quiet and relaxed place,” he said.
The site has an interesting history, Petersen said. In the late 1800s it was a vineyard planted by Andrew Blum, who purchased the land because it reminded him of his homeland of Bavaria.
The vineyard lasted about 50 years before the land reverted back to cedar trees. Cattle were also pastured there at one point, Petersen said, but the property has been virtually untouched in recent decades.
One of the most colorful stories Petersen was told about his property involved a hermit known as Dynamite Pete, who worked in the nearby quarries. He roamed the tree-covered hills barefoot, clad in overalls, playing his fiddle.
“These stories have been told and told and told,” said Petersen. “It makes the place interesting.”
The property is also interesting for its topography. The tree-filled 22 acres is teeming with wildlife, including turkey, deer and birds, said Petersen. They plan to keep the upper portion of the land untouched, with nature trails running through so visitors can get an up-close experience with the native animals and birds.
The hillside sits on solid limestone, which created challenges when installing the infrastructure, Petersen said. They had to drill and blast through the rock to lay electrical, water and sewer lines.
The lower portion of the retreat is not located on rock, but sits atop rich soil, a contrast to the hillside.
“It makes it more interesting, more beautiful,” said Petersen.
They utilized the land’s resources to their advantage when possible. Petersen said there was a large pile of limestone rocks left on the land that they used in the landscaping. And although they cleared a lot of trees during construction, they kept as many as possible to retain the woods atmosphere.
Work on the project began early last year, when Petersen and Kennedy obtained a conditional use permit to operate a special event center in Cass County. Once permits were in place, they began clearing trees and building trails, Petersen said.
A very wet spring delayed work for nearly three months, Petersen said, as trenches dug for underground infrastructure filled with mud.
“It was a very wet spring,” he added.
The first units built were the retreat’s two camping pods, which were completed in June. The prebuilt pods were designed in Norway and are very popular in Europe, Petersen said.
They used pre-built units to help mitigate the delays created by the rain, Petersen said.
“Because we needed to start fast and it was raining every day,” he added.
The retreat’s only cabin was finished in August. The shell was pre-built, but Petersen and Kennedy’s team designed and built the interior.
“We wanted something that was a traditional cabin and a little more space for families,” Petersen said.
The most recent units brought to the retreat are the geodesic “dwell” domes. The structures, made of galvanized steel frames covered with a vinyl-coated polyester shell, were purchased from Pacific Domes of Ashland, Ore., and assembled on site.
Petersen said it was a challenge to design and build an interior to these domes.
“It’s very hard to build something when you have no walls,” he said.
Martie Petersen created the interior design for all of the units, using trendy colors and materials to create the glamorous look.
The first dome to be completed was the “Queen Dome,” which has two queen-sized beds and sleeps four. The “King Dome,” with a king-sized bed and two queens, sleeps six. It will be completed in about two weeks, Petersen said.
They received bookings for the units immediately when they first opened, and the schedule is full on Saturday nights through Thanksgiving, Petersen said. There is a wait list for the domes, which are unique to the area.
“Everyone wants to experience the domes,” he said.
Even though the retreat has only been partially open since June, they have already had guests come from as far away as Texas, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and North Dakota.
“People just want to come and get away,” Petersen said.
The retreat is open year-round, Petersen said, including winter.
“We have six people waiting for the first snow to rent out here,” he added. “It’s pretty out here in the snow.”
The venue also has a large fire pit area that seats up to 50 people and can be rented separately for parties. Petersen said they already have three bookings for Halloween parties there.
Future plans include adding more cabins, each with its own look and feel, Petersen said.
“We could comfortably build 12 cabins where we have now,” he said.
They are also considering adding an outdoor open venue for weddings and other activities, as well as an indoor pavilion.