Weekend camp for women strikes a chord
By Jenn Watt
Published May 15, 2018
Jennifer James loves summer camp. She attended as a child and as an adult she has helped plan camps for other children.
When she was a child, she came up to Camp Adelaide every year and now, as a Girl Guide leader, she makes sure that tradition continues for other kids.
She noticed when she was organizing the camp trips, the mothers would remark how much they wished they were also attending camp.
“Every time parents were sending their daughters on these trips, they go, ‘I wish I could go, it sounds like so much fun,’” said James in an interview with Haliburton County Life.
It gave her an idea, which in the last 10 months has blossomed into a full-time job for the stay-at-home mother of five.
“I wanted to go somewhere I could drink some wine, and paint a sign and have a really good time and come back feeling renewed and having fun. Given that wasn’t out there I thought, hey, I’ll create it,” she said.
That’s how Rustic Mama Retreats was born. A weekend camp for women, the format includes some physical activities, some crafts, good food and socializing. James said she made sure there was something for everyone, so if you’re not a fan of one workshop, there’s a different one happening at the same time.
James lives in Warkworth, about 45 minutes from Peterborough with her husband and kids. She was familiar with the Haliburton Highlands from her time at Camp Adelaide, but it was actually through Google searches that she came across Bark Lake Leadership and Conference Centre near Irondale.
“We went on a tour and I fell in love. It’s beautiful there. I hadn’t heard of it before, but once I saw it I knew it was the perfect place,” she said.
“They have a variety of cabin styles. If it’s a smaller group, say two or four, they can be with just their friends, but if you’re coming with a group of 15 they have the larger cabins where they can accommodate 15.”
Angie Grant, special events co-ordinator for Bark Lake, said the facility fits perfectly with a retreat format, since there’s plenty of space for concurrent workshops and a large dining room for when the group comes back together.
“We’re a good fit for Rustic Mama due to our facilities and what we’re capable of doing,” Grant said. “In comparison to other outdoor education centres, we have about 60 buildings on site, 10 to 15 classroom spaces that allow us to be able to run 10 different workshops every hour and a half to two hour block for her. Then we’re able to sleep 330 people and we have a large dining hall.”
Bark Lake sales assistant Robert Lowes said while Rustic Mama came to the camp through a Google search, they receive most of their referrals through word of mouth and the 70-year history of the facility.
“The beauty of Bark Lake is that we don’t fit in with camps. We are a conference centre as well, so we are able to host a lot of retreats that are outside school groups and educational groups,” he said.
James incorporated Bark Lake’s assets into her programming with an opportunity to use the climbing wall, high ropes and archery.
After James came up with the concept in August of 2017, Rustic Mama ran its first retreat in April at Bark Lake. What she thought would be a small group of women ended up being 167.
“When I made the contract with Bark Lake we had signed it saying there was going to be 20 women there. So that quickly changed. It was such a surprise,” she said.
She describes the feeling as “pure elation.”
Rustic Mama has clearly hit on an unmet need among women to have a chance to get away from it all.
“As a mom of five kids, I know we’re always giving. You’re giving to your husband, you’re giving to your kids. I volunteer a lot with Girl Guides and I never get that time for myself to just breathe,” she said.
Some mothers can feel like their lives now revolve around their children and they don’t get time to focus on themselves.
“You come back so different, so relaxed, so renewed. You’re ready to give again. But also, realize the value of taking care of yourself and how it makes you feel,” she said.
Due to the overwhelming success of the first retreat, James has added more dates. Two more this spring are already sold out – one at Bark Lake and the other in Muskoka. There are three planned for the fall: one at Bark Lake, one at Cedar Ridge near Bancroft and the other in Algonquin Highlands at Camp Kandalore.
“We’re planning to have 12 next year,” James said.
“This has transitioned to a full-time job. My husband is now a stay-at-home dad and I work on Rustic Mama retreats full time every day,” she said.
To find out more about Rustic Mama Retreats, go to https://rusticmamaretreats.com.
Bark Lake Leadership and Conference Centre will be celebrating its 70th birthday this year with a gala event on Oct. 13 and an open house the following day. You can keep up with them by visiting barklake.com.