Five Places to Recharge in Howard County

Everybody needs to recharge their batteries once in a while — to get away, slow down, take a few deep breaths. But not everybody wants to do it the same way. Some want to be pampered in luxury. Others would rather wander through wooded trails. Others could think of nothing better than guided spiritual retreat with like-minded pilgrims.

Fortunately, you can find any of these options in Howard County, where a variety of facilities offer an array of retreat spaces for the weary, burned-out seeker of solace.


Mt. Pleasant Farm, 10520 Old Frederick Road, Woodstock
410-465-8877  |  hcconservancy.org
Admission is free, but some programs and workshops are not.

Situated just north of Old Frederick Road in Woodstock, the nonprofit Howard County Conservancy at Mt. Pleasant Farm does not offer overnight rooms or spiritual workshops. It doesn't offer yoga classes or exercise machines, hot tubs or massages. What the conservancy offers is 232 acres of pure, unadulterated nature — an increasingly precious commodity in Howard County.


Call it nature therapy, if you will. For some people, it beats yoga or hot tubs any day.

"We have a lot of people who come out here and sort-of use the trails and the grounds to connect with nature," says Meg Boyd, the conservancy's executive director, noting that the property has four miles of trails.

The land was part and parcel of the 300-year-old Mt. Pleasant Farm, which in 1993 was left for preservation by then-owners Ruth and Frances Brown. In increasingly developed Howard County, many find the open space a welcome oasis.

"We have a really nice variety of habitats, which I think is a little different from what you'll find in some other places," Boyd says. "We have streams; we have forests; we have grasslands and meadows. And we have a nice variety of wildlife that you'll find in all those different habitat areas."


The conservancy is more than a place to tramp through unspoiled habitats. It offers structured activities, such as summer camps for children, guided hikes for adults and kids, and workshops and lectures on such topics as snakes, bats and food preservation. It also features a variety of resident animals, including goats, a barred owl and chickens.

Many of the classes are held in the 8,700-square-foot Gudelski Environmental Education Center, built and opened in 2005. The center also houses natural exhibits, periodic displays of nature-oriented art, and a large room that can be rented for conferences and private parties, including weddings.

Outside, there is the landscaped, 1.4-acre Honors Garden, which includes fountains and a walking path and is "designed to be reflective in nature," according to Boyd. An outdoor play area for children, meanwhile, features natural attractions such as jumping logs rather than plastic slides and swings.

In fact, just about every aspect of the conservancy is designed with that same goal: feeding visitors hunger for raw nature. "That's sort of our tagline," Boyd says. "Connecting people to nature."

1525 Marriottsville Road
410-422-1320  |  rccbonsecours.com | info@rccbonsecours.com
Day visitors can roam the grounds for free, but fees are charged for meals, overnight rooms and organized retreats.

"Reflect, Regroup and Recharge" is the mission of the Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center in Marriottsville, and the center takes that charge seriously. You won't find pampered luxury or scintillating nightlife here — in fact, you won't find any nightlife at all. But you will find plenty of opportunities for peace and quiet and simple reflection.

The center's picturesque 313 acres include the largest labyrinth on the East Coast, extensive woodlands perfect for relaxing hikes and a landscaped pond encircled by a walking path and benches.

The center's main building has 70 comfortable but Spartan rooms for rent (no distracting televisions or telephones). It also has a chapel, a tiny fitness center, a bookstore stocked with spiritual literature, an array of conference rooms (two of which can accommodate up to 150 guests) and two dining halls (three if you count a small, two-table room for people who want to dine alone).

A ministry of the Sisters of Bon Secours, a Catholic religious order, the center conducts numerous organized retreats and seminars throughout the year, ranging from a four-day retreat on compassion to a two-hour labyrinth walk. But the center also rents out its facilities, both overnight and during the day, to groups and individuals looking for all manner of retreats.

"Our own retreats are largely faith-based or spiritual," says Tessa Barnett, the center's marketing coordinator. "But we're also open to outside organizations that are not faith-based. … We have business groups that come here, groups that come here to do yoga. There's a group that comes here to do quilting."

The center also welcomes people who come on their own, just looking for some peace and privacy. "This is a nice place to come and sit in quiet and reflect on things," Barnett says.

While the Marriottsville center has been a retreat haven since 1980, it was just three years ago that Bon Secours hired a marketing coordinator and only two years ago that the name was changed from Bon Secours Spiritual Center to Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center. Both moves were part of an effort to get over the label the center was once tagged with: "Howard County's best-kept secret."

"The name change has opened the community's eyes to what we have to offer," Barnett says. "We open our arms to everyone."

HAVEN ON THE LAKE: Healing Mind and Body in Downtown Columbia
443-864-0557  |  HavenOnTheLake.org | HOL.info@ColumbiaAssociation.org

The Columbia Association promises that the mind, body and wellness retreat that is due to open in September on the downtown Columbia lakefront will not be your typical fitness center.

Indeed, fitness center does not begin to describe a facility whose offerings will include — but not be limited to — the following: Pilates, massages, acupuncture, yoga (a range of types that will include hot yoga, a yoga wall and aerial yoga), nutritional counseling, tai chi, meditation, barre and a separate "healing environment" with a pool, sauna and large hot tub overlooking Lake Kittamaqundi. CA has partnered with The Still Point, a spa and wellness center with locations in Clarksville and Highland, to provide several of the services.

The $3.5 million, 27,000-square-foot center also will include a café, with food and beverage provided by Whole Foods, which is opening this year in the same building — the iconic former Rouse Co. headquarters designed by architect Frank Gehry. The center also will feature a 7,000-square-foot outdoor patio.

"It's a very comprehensive retreat that's going to offer more types of mind and wellness programs under one roof than any other place in the Mid-Atlantic area," says Rob Goldman, CA's chief operating officer. "It will be an extensive program."


Why such a comprehensive offering, and why in Columbia? As Goldman explains it, CA had the space available and the Howard Hughes Corp., which owns and is redeveloping much of downtown Columbia, was looking to open some sort of wellness center. Moreover, he says, the people of Columbia wanted such a facility. CA surveyed Columbia residents on what type of health center they wanted, he explains, and the mind, body and wellness option was preferred over any other by a 2-to-1 margin.


Membership in the center will be open to Columbia and non-Columbia residents alike. Options will include annual memberships and day passes. The center also plans to offer half-day and full-day packages, and might work with area hotels to offer days-long packages.

NAVA HEALTH & VITALITY CENTER: Western and Eastern Cures for What Ails You
8880 McGaw Road, Suite B, Columbia
800-672-NAVA (6282) | navacenter.com
It offers annual and monthly memberships, and nonmembers can order individual therapies.

At the Nava Health and Vitality Center, which opened in January in Columbia, visitors can get a personalized wellness plan designed to cure whatever ails them, whether it's anxiety, fatigue, a flagging sex drive or any of a number of ailments.

That plan is tailored to the individual's needs and wants, and includes a smorgasbord of treatments provided by an array of specialists and supplements — all under one roof.

"Nava offers a revolutionary approach to total body wellness that draws from Eastern, Western and alternative methods, while its foundation is grounded in science," says company spokesman Houshyar Karimabadi. The care is provided, he says, by a team of "physicians, certified nutrition experts, chiropractors, acupuncturists and massage therapists."

The Columbia Nava center is the first of several planned for the Baltimore and Washington area, including one in Chevy Chase due to open this fall. Brianne Atkins, manager of the Columbia center, says clients have spanned the spectrum, from an NFL player looking to improve his performance to regular moms and dads looking to slow the effects of aging.

Members are given a battery of tests and diagnostics that result in their own personal "custom vitality plan."  The plan, Karimabadi says, is used as "a roadmap for addressing the underlying causes of our client's symptoms and is designed to integrate only the relevant therapies and supplements that will help our clients feel and perform at optimal levels."

Therapies, like the clients, span the spectrum from "hormone optimization therapy," designed to restore depleted or imbalanced hormone levels, to simple massage, and all are done on-site. "Our focus is a holistic approach, and we have it all in one house," Atkins says.

12300 Folly Quarter Road, Ellicott City
410-531-3800 | shrineofstanthony.org | cderenge@companionsofstanthony.org
Open from dawn to dusk, and visitors are welcome to hike the grounds and tour the shrine free.

Drive up the gently sloped driveway off Folly Quarter Road in western Ellicott City, past the statues of St. Anthony and a donkey and on up to the Shrine of St. Anthony, with its magnificent courtyard, imposing arches and terra cotta roof, and you'd be forgiven for thinking you've made a wrong turn into Renaissance Italy.

What you've entered, in fact, is a historic slice of rural quietude that is gradually being transformed into one of the area's unique options for day retreats and conferences.

The Shrine of St. Anthony sits on 230 acres of rolling countryside that once belonged to Charles Carroll, an 18th-century scholar, statesman and — fittingly in this case — the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. In 1928, the Franciscans purchased the property to use as a novitiate, a seminary for young men training to be Roman Catholic priests. The building they erected was modeled after the Sacro Convento, the 13th-century Italian friary where St. Francis of Assisi is buried.

At one point, the friary was home to 50 or 60 friars. But over the years, their numbers began to dwindle. Only about nine friars still live there, and the facility is no longer a seminary.

Faced with "too much space and not enough men," as Assistant Director Joseph White puts it, the shrine began to transform itself about 10 or 15 years ago. "We started to open up more to the community," he says, "moving from a very private place to a very public place."

Today, St. Anthony's brochures bill the shrine as "an ideal oasis for all types of retreats, conferences, days of reflection, and much more."  It has no overnight facilities, but organizations can rent rooms for meetings and buy meals in the dining hall, which is decorated with portraits of the seven Franciscan popes. Individuals, meanwhile, can meditate in the shrine's quiet library, walk two miles of wooded trails, meet with a friar for "spiritual direction" and, of course, attend daily Mass. The friars regularly host Catholic-themed workshops and seminars for the public.

White says the shrine’s greatest gift to visitors is serenity. “We have all the modern amenities you could want and we’re not too far from anything in Howard County,” he says. “But it’s also very quiet here. That’s probably the biggest attraction for most people. … You can walk a hundred yards in any direction and be by yourself.”

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