Nestled at the foot of Snicker’s Gap in the village of Bluemont, sits a facility like no other. Boulder Crest Retreat offers a respite to combat veterans and their families, who need a break from everyday stresses. On Aug. 19, community members gathered for a fundraising motorcycle ride to aid the nonprofit’s mission.
Opened in 2013, Boulder Crest Retreat anyone who has been deployed to a war zone from any generation and conflict, as well active-duty, reserve and National Guard personnel, veterans and family members, including Gold Star families, and first responders.
The fourth annual Healing Heroes Ride — one of the largest veteran-centered fundraising rides in the country — raised funds through registration fees, raffle items and a secret auction. The ride included over 200 bikes and over 300 riders, organizer Jack Causa said. The weekend’s ride raised $30,000 and it has raised just under $100,000 for Boulder Crest retreat in the past three years.
“It’s very fulfilling and it feels really good. We get a lot of donations from people who can’t ride but want to participate” Causa said. “It’s all bikes, it doesn’t matter, just come and support our veterans.”
The 37-acre facility includes four cabins that each sleep up to six people, a lodge that can accommodate large group gatherings and outside events, a seven-lane archery range with 3-D targets, horses for equine therapy, walking trails, an outdoor exercise area, a children’s playground, a fishing pond, chickens and Heroes Garden — the nation’s second handicapped-accessible walled garden.
Stays are free to veterans and their families and reservations open four months in advance. All families have to do is pay for their food and transport to the retreat. The foundation also has special Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter programs where they put on a meal for guests, all donated from Tuscarora Mill.
Co-founders Julia and Ken Falke have been donating time to help veterans for years. A Navy veteran himself, Ken Falke was injured in 1989 while serving as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD). Years later, he and Julia, would start their first military-centered nonprofit for other wounded EOD veterans. EOD technicians are often injured in the line of duty and while hospitalized, the government, at that time, did not help families pay to travel to see their loved one, Julia Falke said.
This is where the Falkes intervened by creating the EOD Warrior Foundation 12 years ago. The foundation raised money for the transportation and accommodation of traveling families. The Falkes would even bring some of the wounded veterans and their families to their own farm to help establish a sense of normalcy while the veteran recovered. It was from this experience that Boulder Crest Retreat was born.
The Falkes had the land to build additional cabins for more families, but their property was zoned for farmland and in order to create the retreat they wanted, their land would have to be rezoned to a bed and breakfast. The couple was told it would take three years to get the designation and permits. It only took them eight months, Julia Falke said.
The couple paid for a large part of the facility’s construction. Eighteen months after breaking down, Boulder Crest Retreat was complete, Julia Falke said. The community was behind the couple the entire way. Businesses pledged to donate windows, cabinetry, appliances and bedding to the Falkes if they were able to get the permits and make Boulder Crest happen.
“Every person came through. Everything you see in the kitchens, cabins, music room, all donated,” Julia Falke said. “It just has been an amazing outpouring from people. It’s such a good cause that once people know you’re genuine and you’ve put your time and your effort and your money behind it, people came on board like crazy.”
Now Boulder Crest Retreat has expanded to a second location in Arizona, to better serve veterans looking for a retreat program who are based on the west coast. Apache Springs Retreat will open in spring 2018.
The Arizona facility was largely funded by a $10 million donation by the James Clark Foundation. Boulder Crest Retreat relies on volunteers and donations to continue to operate. The foundation has a small staff and keeps its overhead at nine percent. So far in 2017, Boulder Crest has seen over 4,000 volunteer hours from individual and corporate volunteers.
“There are bout 48,000 veteran charities in the United States and we’re just a small one but we do a lot with what we got,” Julia Falke said.
Those wanting to get involved can donate to Boulder Crest Foundation by selecting it as their charity while using Amazon Smile (smile.amazon.com), donating items on the organization’s wishlist, or visit the organization’s website to find out about hosting fundraisers and volunteering.
“The thing we’re most grateful for is all our volunteers. We have constant volunteers who are here, everyday, all the time, working,” Julia Falke said. “We have a very small staff. Without volunteers, there’s no way we could do it.”