Our conversation with Jessica Merritt, Co-owner and CEO of Nurture + Nature/The Special Liberty Project began with this message on our Facebook account: "I’m very interested in connecting and sharing our story with you and would love to have you and your family out to our farm and retreat center. Our family made this crazy decision to move across the country, buy a farm and create a nature-focused glamping retreat center, primarily to host retreats for the families of The Special Liberty Project, our non-profit organization, but we are also opening up to other groups as well."
She had our complete attention.
The Merritt's have been running The Special Liberty Project out west for some time. Jessica Merritt's husband, Cory, served in the Navy and retired fairly recently. The Merritt's plan was to continue to serve Veterans and their families but on the east coast as well as the west. As a result, they have built an east coast glamping retreat on an active 20+ acre farm, just outside of Franklin NC. To say their retreat is special and beautiful is an understatement.
We had the pleasure of staying with them over a weekend, and this guide will share our stay with you, tell you all about their amazing retreat, and discuss in more detail The Special Liberty Project, and how you can help them help others.
While the first part of this guide focuses on their public glamping options, their true mission is to have the retreat facility serve primarily the The Special Liberty Project families and community.
What is Glamping?
We had heard of glamping, but didn't really fully understand what it was, until our retreat experience with Nurture + Nature. Glamping is basically where luxury meets nature. Glamping is short for Glamorous Camping.
With Glamping, you get all the experiences of sleeping, living and being outdoors, but with the luxuries and amenities of a hotel and resort. Glamping allows you to not only experience the outdoors, but to live in it.
The glamping movement is growing, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. We found it to be a wonderful, fun and unique way to enjoy the outdoors.
Nuture + Nature Retreat Center
Nuture + Nature Retreat center is located on a 20+ acre remote farm, about 15 minutes outside of Franklin NC, in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
The drive from our home near Maggie Valley NC to Nuture + Nature was about 50 minutes, and is a beautiful drive through the NC Blue Ridge Mountains. The retreat center is located off a smaller gravel road that travels through the Nantahala National Forest. You'll park in the parking area, and walk up a short trail to the clearing where the retreat is located.
Here is a video of our visit!
Glamping Area and Tents
There are 5 tents, built on top of heavy decks overlooking the woods, campfire area, and pasture. There are stairs leading up to a small deck area in front of each tent. The tents are made of metal frames, heavy canvas and have both screened zipper fronts, and zipper canvas fronts as well for full-privacy if needed.
The inside of each tent is like a hotel room, with either two double beds, or a single double bed depending on your needs. Tents also contain nightstands, a table with coffee maker, coffee, tea, heater, fan and water. Additionally there are chairs, lamps, and carpets. All five tents are very nicely decorated and very charming.
Tents have four side windows that can be opened, with screens for airflow as well. The deck out front has plenty of room for two to sit outside, relax in the deck chairs and enjoy the surrounding woodland.
Overall the tents are very comfortable and spacious. Our bed had full sheets, blankets, and pillows. We brought our own pillows and some extra blankets with us just in case. The beds were incredibly comfortable. The provided fans were great for airflow and providing white noise for sleeping at night.
There are decorative outdoor lights that come on around 5:30 in the evening, and automatically turn off at 10:30pm.
The five available tents are located inside of a fenced in grassy area (see Buddy and Miniature Horses section below). Inside the glamping area you'll find:
- A private bathhouse (pictured above) with hot and cold running water, two showers, two metal washpan sinks, mirrors, soap, shampoo, towels and other bath related items
- A cooking/picnic area with gas grill, cooking utensils, and tables
- A fire-pit with plenty of fireside seating. Nurture + Nature does a nightly campfire, and this was one of the favorite parts of our visit.
- Restroom with flushable toilet in the nearby and very clean barn
The entire facility can be reserved, and can accommodate a party up to 16 guests, or individual tents can be reserved as well. You can make reservations on their website.
Buddy and the Miniature Horses
Nurture + Nature is focused on providing nature based healing and relaxation. Part of that is through the surrounding mountains, water, trees and forest but part of that is also through the active farm and animals. In particular Buddy the Donkey and his two girls (miniature horses).
Buddy and the two miniature horses roam freely around the glamping area and are one of the highlights of staying there. If you aren't comfortable around animals or if you're allergic, you can request that they be moved out and into another pasture area while you stay. We really enjoyed their company, and they added a sense of security as we slept that night. We knew buddy was constantly on guard duty.
All three of them are very friendly and social, and they just might be one of the highlights of your visit. I mean how often do you get to go luxury camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains and get to hang out with a super cool Donkey?
As previously mentioned, the property is also an active farm with:
- A full barn
- Multiple fenced in pastures
- Buddy the Donkey
- Two miniature horses
- A full-size horse (Rocky)
- Honey Bees and hives
Things to do
The key thing to do while staying at Nurture + Nature is to relax. If you feel the need to do something a little more, you can:
- Take a walk through the National Forest along the road next to the retreat.
- Explore the farm and enjoy the animals
- Hike up to the top of the mountain
- Visit nearby Franklin NC
- Visit nearby waterfalls
- Hike nearby hiking trails
- Go on a water rafting and rock climbing excursion
- and much more!
Nuture + Nature can put you in touch with folks that can point you to all of the above things to do and more, as part of your stay with them. Additionally, depending on your needs, the retreat can work with organizations to set-up various special events, workshops, outings, etc.
What to bring with you
You'll want to bring many of the typical items you bring camping. Rather than us putting a list there, Nurture + Nature has a full list of items to bring along with you on their FAQ page.
Some of the more important items we brought with us where:
- Cooler with ice, drinks, snacks, and food (we cooked onsite using their grill).
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Flashlight(s) - for walking around at night, and if you need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night
Cell Phone Service: There is cell-phone service, but it's spotty and not super high quality. But honestly, we didn't expect to have any.
WiFi - There is currently no wifi available.
The Special Liberty Project
“I have gained a sisterhood, support system, understanding, fellowship. Very meaningful, creating purposeful connections, and rejuvenating. I feel valid.”
Gold Star Spouse
Here is the real core of what the Nuture + Nature retreat has to offer, and how they make the world a better place.
The Special Liberty Project, founded by Cory and Jessica Merritt, serves the entire Veteran family: Healing Veterans, Gold Star Spouses, and Gold Star Kids. This includes family survivors of active-duty and Veteran suicides, who are welcomed and embraced just like all traditional Gold Star Families.
Their programs are nature-centric and therapeutic. They are designed to give the Veteran family camaraderie and support from peers with similar struggles. At the same time, they give back to the spouses and parents of fallen heroes with special retreats and outdoor experiences. In addition, they foster positive relationships between Gold Star Kids and Veteran mentors, who lead the children through educational and fun outdoor activities. The pair work together to complete tasks and achieve goals, creating a bond that is very positive and impactful for both.
Join us in Helping Out
We spent time with both of them, and their family over a campfire one evening learning more about them and what they are doing. To say they are passionate about helping Veteran and Veteran families would be a grave understatement. We heard stories of moments that impacted them, of people and family's lives changed, and children helped. You could hear and feel the passion in their voices as they shared their very moving stories with us.
Our son is an Active Duty Marine, and this program and family had such a profound impact on us and him, that we will be donating any and all proceeds from this article and our YouTube video to The Special Liberty Project.
We also ask that you help us support them through the donation button below, where 100% of the donations you give will go directly to them. To learn more about the Special Liberty Project, visit their website. Help us help them!
Help Veterans and Veteran Families Today!
Let's come together to help entire Veteran families: Healing Veterans, Gold Star Spouses, and Gold Star Kids. Donate to The Special Liberty Project today!