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Communal Ground

Beyul Retreat Fosters Connection and Brings a New Vision for a Historic Ranch in Meredith

Article by Genevieve Joelle Villamizar

Photography by Mike Hefferon - EstatePhotoVideo.com

Originally published in Roaring Fork Lifestyle

The dog is white, visually striking—a gleaming contrast to all that surrounds him. Green aspen leaves and creamy trunks, waves of meadow grass, and burly, woodsy cabins. In motion, the shock of his dense fur shivers over lanky, young muscles. A juvenile bear comes to mind, loping along, uncompelled by human eyes. 

Atlas Roc is primarily Malamute. At nine months old, his shoulders peak out at your hip. Size aside, he’s serene, curious: a gentle solicitor of scratches and rubs. Atlas lives at Beyul Retreat, way up the Frying Pan River, past Ruedi, with the newest stewards of the historic Diamond J Ranch. Beyul is the only world Atlas knows. 

Described as a “wilderness lodge” by Aspen-born co-founders Abby Stern and Reuben Sadowsky, Beyul is far more than a “lodge.” 

Investigating the cabins and traversing the river, meadows, and senescing trails, Atlas meanders his territory. He sits in repose amid timothy grass, wild violets, and dandelions; he noses at prairie smoke and its popular cousin, the pasque flower. At the edge of a pond he pokes at a vascular network of muskrat industry, tunnels and holes perforating its bank. Atlas is a stalwart beast, powerful, and a grounding reminder that nature—much like Beyul—is worthy of exploration.

On a recent summer day, Stern and Sadowsky discussed Beyul from the calming shade of the lodge verandah. 

“The intention for us is not to be running a backcountry hotel,” Sadowsky says, “but to build businesses that can expand upon that.” The team’s Big Picture intention is for Beyul to be a safe holding space for a multitude of uses.

“Leading yoga retreats at Aspen Meadows,” Stern says, “we would share space with a hockey team. Here, at Beyul, we can create the space we need.”

“With this lodging model, we can accomplish all of the things we want to do within the realms of backcountry education, health and wellness, regenerative design, idea workshops, artist residencies, music, events...” Sadowsky trails off. “We’ve integrated all of it. It’s all pretty fragile on its own—but with this strong foundation of a lodging business? It’s all actually quite sturdy.”

Within the haven of Beyul, it is clear that much is possible. Sitting on that verandah or strolling with Atlas, latent dreams and ambitions fill one’s senses.

“I really enjoy it when it’s quiet here,” says Stern of the creative, regenerative incubator they are crafting.

“Quiet” is a misnomer, though. There is the sibilance of river, rock, and bank. Susurration of aspen, spruce, fir, and pine. Warble, whistle, and sigh of avian creatures. All are a constant rhythm, the breath of a forest that has pulsed here for eons. 

On this particular afternoon, that “silence” also carries laughter, rising and falling conversations from retreat guests. It’s the music of celebration: a chill bachelor party. Observations from an artist in residence. All aflight within the aliveness of the surrounding White River National Forest.

That collective allure of sharing ideas is irrepressible. The artist—Heather Hansen—like many collaborators at Beyul, originally came as an “event,” fabricating kinetic sculptures for Beyul chefs. Renowned for her life-scale body-movement drawings and mandalas, Hansen has returned of her own desire. 

She will live at Beyul for a month, tracing and revealing anew the historic pathways criss-crossing the ranch, tracked by untold species for millennia: fox, deer, elk. Homo sapiens. Her wayfinding installations and artistic cues pull us along with her, hopefully discovering that we too can see, sense, and feel these trails as the wanderer, forager, seeker, or hunter does.

“The day that we closed on the property, we opened up for business and had a full house of hunters. That’s the history of this place,” says Sadowsky. “I just started hunting last year. We’re not about being on any side of any diametrically opposed identity. We want hunters that try out yoga and yogis who understand more about where their food comes from. We want Beyul to be a meeting place, a bridging of worlds.”

Atlas returns to the verandah. He’s not too worried about differences, either.

“It’s like applying the permaculture principles we find in ecology to social structures. Trying to find the same edges, applying this format to how groups make decisions, to how they allow different cultures and energies in, for more sustainable thriving,” Sadowsky says. 

“We’ve been intentional about coming into someone else’s community,” says Stern. “This space has been here for over 100 years, and so we’re looking into the history of where [Diamond J] has been and where we want to allow it to continue to grow.”

“Growing up here, I was aware at a very young age that I was already a lottery winner many times over: to have cool parents, to live in Aspen,” Sadowsky admits, lifting Atlas Roc’s upper body onto his lap, stroking pale fur. “I’ve always felt...just an innate sense of paying it forward. To do impactful things.”

Beyul, the Dalai Lama writes, are sacred places not for escape, “but to enter the world more deeply.” The Beyul Retreat at Diamond J and its new curators and stewards offer communal ground to do just that.

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