More than 150 years ago, famed philosopher Henry David Thoreau published his iconic book "Walden," which chronicled his two years living as one with nature in a cabin set on Walden Pond in Massachusetts.
Today, some travelers who seek a Walden-esque experience still want 21st-century amenities and perks. At Blue Moon Rising, a new eco-friendly vacation village nestled in the mountains of Western Maryland, they'll find the best of both worlds. Following a soft opening in fall 2013, the retreat officially opened to guests June 27.
Tucked away on 15 wooded acres replete with towering oak, hickory and hemlock trees, various flora, fauna and a quiet stream, the property boasts 14 environmentally conscious, compact and energy-efficient cabins (ranging from 300 to 450 square feet) inspired by the tiny-home movement generating buzz across the country.
Dubbed "Waldens" by the staff, each structure was built using repurposed, recycled and local materials, and each one-of-a-kind cabin is filled with a veritable treasure trove of unique architectural features and finds. There's flooring made of heart yellow pine from Andrew Carnegie's former locomotive factory in Pittsburgh, for example, and there are intricate doors and windows that were once part of a historic Baltimore-area home.
Rich colors and textures abound, and furnishings mix contemporary and country-cozy pieces, accentuated by local art. Fun, quirky touches include handcrafted light fixtures made from an antique gramophone. A salvaged automobile rearview mirror takes on new purpose as a bathroom looking glass. The overall vibe might best be described as rustic chic.
A tranquil hideaway
The cabins are clustered on a hilly expanse that offers views of Deep Creek Lake, originally a hydroelectric source and now the largest inland body of water in Maryland. Spanning 3,900 acres with nearly 70 miles of shoreline, it's a popular haven for fishing, boating, swimming and other water sports that help bring more than 1.1 million visitors annually to Garrett County.
It's a fitting backdrop for this tranquil hideaway.
"My vision was to create a beautiful, comfortable place where vacation rentals could be integrated with sustainable living," says Lisa M. Jan, 59, an educator turned developer whose family vacations at the lake spawned the concept of Blue Moon Rising six years ago.
"I wanted to foster an understanding of the natural environment and preserve it as much as possible," explains Jan. "Every decision made was eco-conscious."
Jan and her small, tight-knit team — comprising local builders and craftspeople, among others — have sought to use materials that are reclaimed, recycled or recyclable in the future.
"Whether it's the materials we use in the cabins or something like landscaping, we weigh what impact it will have on the earth and this community," says operations manager Elliott Perfetti, an electrical engineer born and raised in Garrett County. "And I can tell you, we don't let anything go to waste."
Dirt removed during excavations was sifted, then mixed with clay, lime and water to become the natural plaster coatings on interior and exterior straw-bale walls. Moreover, every tree taken down during the construction process was evaluated for use elsewhere on the property and given a fresh purpose — for instance, as support posts or trim for the cabins.
Elsewhere on the site, cabins have been furnished with the latest green products and technologies, from low-flow toilets to high-efficiency heaters, lighting and insulation.
Upon arrival at Blue Moon Rising, guests are welcomed by a staffer at the onsite office — a visually stunning LEED platinum house with a green roof — that everyone calls "Leap of Faith."
Next, they're escorted via golf cart up a winding path toward the diminutive cabins, christened with catchy monikers like Sugar Magnolia, Bella Donna and Moonshine.
"They each have a unique design and personality," says Bill Thomas, the award-winning design builder whose Cranesville-based company, Hobbitat, built the tiny structures primarily from locally sourced, reclaimed lumber and then assembled them onsite.
At the Skyeia cabin, bold red trim stands out against the cedar shake and raw oak logs of the cabin's exterior. Cabinets have been artfully constructed out of doors collected from salvage piles.
Moonshine has a Murphy bed and a loft-style "bunk-bed" area that provides additional sleeping space, while Funkomatik 513 has a purple door, purple trim and plenty of funky touches. A reclaimed barn-wood interior in Luna Bleu has original paint that has been carefully restored and sealed to maintain the appearance of the wood's past life. A library ladder has been engineered to serve as steps to the sleeping area.
Bathing options run the gamut; you can sink into a claw-foot tub or soap up under the stars in an outdoor shower.
"We don't have TVs or phones in the cabins, although there is free WiFi," says Perfetti, who adds that there's plenty to keep folks engaged during their stay.
Out back under fragrant pines are a picnic area, a nearby fire pit, a striking open-air pavilion that's suitable for weddings and parties, and The Phoenix, a community gathering space equipped with a large, sleek kitchen. The pristine property also includes access to hiking trails, kayaks, canoes and pedal boats.
The team is currently developing wellness, nature, arts and other pro-gramming with local experts, designed to cultivate economic, environmental and social sustainability in the community.
"I'm generating good karma and getting good karma back," says Jan, adding that she believes the picturesque getaway is among the most innovative developments of its kind in the region."I think we have created a magical place that's not quite like anywhere else."