Deb Abraham Spalding
Amongst our abundant natural resources in our local Catoctin Mountain, seekers will find a tranquil treasure at ThorpeWood. ThorpeWood is a retreat nestled in the woods on Mink Farm Road in Thurmont. It boasts 160 acres of forests, meadows, an arboretum, wetlands, a native brook trout stream, a timber-framed lodge, a cottage, barn, pavilions, pond, and trails.
ThorpeWood is a unique place, being both a venue for events of all types that mostly use its timber-framed lodge as home base and also a nature and farm-based safe-place, hosting educational and emotionally supportive programs. Frederick County’s Head Start Program is one of the beneficiaries of ThorpeWood’s programs, engaging 260 three- to five-year-old children who upon entering kindergarten will have had 30 ThorpeWood farm experiences.
Additionally, older youth groups such as Way Station’s Camp Journey, Hospice’s Camp Jamie, Frederick County’s Kids Like Us, Laurel Hall and Brook Lane Schools, Baltimore’s So What Else, and area-wide Boys and Girls Scout troops take advantage of the lovely mountain-top setting of ThorpeWood. At its Stoney Lick Farm, ThorpeWood also offers an equine-assisted learning program, which entails doing the work necessary to form a bond with a horse, all on the ground (i.e. no riding), and in so doing, developing better overall communication skills. Incidentally, all non-profit use of ThorpeWood is offered free of charge.
The other side of what ThorpeWood is features events, expertly handled by Mountain Memories at ThorpeWood, a company owned by Julie Castleman. Mountain Memories at ThorpeWood manages all facility rentals and special events. The tagline is “More than a venue,” and indeed it is, as Julie and her team handhold those who need it, assuring everyone that their event is the most important thing at the moment. There are six wedding-appropriate gathering sites on the property.
Sam Castleman has been called, “the heart and soul” of ThorpeWood. He serves as its president and executive director. In that role, he has enjoyed a journey with ThorpeWood that started 25 years ago and has taken many directions, much like the stream that flows through the property. Upon arriving at the property in 1995 with his Bachelor of Science in Forest Management, he has nurtured it to become a place of safety, comfort, and growth. This path was sparked by his stepfather, the late Merle Thorpe, Jr., a securities attorney who owned ThorpeWood’s original 23 acres. Sam calls his work at ThorpeWood “sweetly rewarding.”
ThorpeWood is proud to support a strong environmental and protection ethic. For example, the lodge is constructed in an environmentally sensitive way, using an earth-friendly insulation (air-crete); operable cupola windows that when open create convection currents, drawing in the cooler outside air while expelling the hotter air out onto the roof; construction material reuse: 300 year-old chestnut wood comprises the flooring and many posts and beams; composting toilets that reduce water consumption by 90 percent; and nutrient-rich solids and liquids that are carefully land applied.
Being at ThorpeWood is a farm, arboretum, stream, pond, and hiking experience. All 10 horses, 2 goats, 2 cows, 11 chickens, barn cats, and many family-friendly dogs can be involved in the visitor’s time on the property, or if one just wants to sit and reflect—that is great, too.
Time at ThorpeWood is spent connecting with nature, conducting business, getting married, celebrating special occasions, and much more. Folks from FCPS employees, Leadership Frederick County, St. John’s Regional Catholic School, and church group retreats utilize the property. Every December, ThorpeWood welcomes the community to enjoy its free annual Holiday Open House. The date for this year is Saturday, December 5—mark your calendar!
Designated acreage at ThorpeWood is used by the American Chestnut Foundation to sustain the growth of American Chestnut hybrids. The Native American chestnut was prized for its use in furniture because of its beautiful honey color and grain patterns, for characteristics that made it a great building material—straight-grained and light but very strong and for its usefulness as fence post and other outdoor uses because of its rot resistance. One-third of the eastern deciduous was chestnut, but, unfortunately, this forest giant completely (nearly) died out due to an imported blight. The hybrid program crosses Chinese chestnut with American chestnut, seeking a back cross that is essentially 97 percent pure American with only a trace Chinese, that trace containing the blight resistance.
Please note that ThorpeWood is not a park. It’s not open all the time, but you can catch up with the happenings at ThorpeWood by visiting www.thorpewood.org, following them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ThorpeWood-232216523522772/, or reading their blog posts. Call 301-271-2823 for more information.
Sam Castleman (pictured right) chats with a program participant at ThorpeWood.
Program participants are always happily curious at ThorpeWood.