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A lot has been written in recent years about the “benefits of nature” -- fantastic books like Florence Williams’ The Nature Fix and ground breaking research like the work being done by Utah professor David Strayer

In his decades’ worth of research on the psychological and cognitive effects of the outdoors, Strayer has found time in nature—sans cell phone—to be a powerful antidote to the constant distraction of our digital lives. More than that, it enhances higher-order thinking, restores attention, and boosts creativity.

-Carolyn Gregoire, Outdoors Magazine

For those of us that grew up without devices running around outside, the positive benefits of nature seem obvious. There was a lot less distraction, and in some cases, going outside was the only thing we had to do.  

But for young people growing up in a world with tech companies jockeying for their attention 24/7, and with screens and media the dominant forces, getting outside isn’t as common anymore. And the benefits seem further away, even as they're more important than ever.

For parents, our lives are busier than ever. We’re fighting the same distractions from tech, along with the weekly and daily routines of school mornings and afternoons, practices, school events, social events, and more. My wife and I talk about it all the time - man the world seems busy!

So how do we accommodate our busy schedules and make it possible to get our kids out into the great outdoors more often? Simply put - make it more accessible. 

Make wild spaces in the Appalachian Mountains seem like they’re next door.

Hopefully this is where River Mountain can help parents and kids. Hopefully this is where we can be a resource. The River Mountain team feels like the benefits of nature - particularly those associated with focus and attention, communication, and creativity - are more important than ever. But to make those benefits truly accessible, we had to pick a retreat location and design a transportation model that fits into families' weekly routines.

When we chose our site, even before we'd begun developing our outdoor programs with Penn State, being accessible to families in Pittsburgh, DC, Baltimore, Harrisburg, and Philly was our #1 goal. And making sure we set up a shuttle service to make transportation as easy as possible for parents was one of the first items we started working on.

The River Mountain team will do whatever it takes to make a River Mountain experience possible for your child. Seeing kids think deeply without the distraction of tech and realize the "benefits of nature" is our passion, and whatever we need to do to make that happen, we’ll do it. I hope everyone feels like they can email us or call us anytime.

In ending this blog, I thought I’d include a short write-up that I was asked to include for a variance request for our building permits. We all come to love the outdoors through different doors, and for me, Richland Creek was my place. I hope River Mountain can be that place for the young people who visit our retreat.

When people ask about River Mountain Retreat, I'm always compelled to explain, too loudly, that "I Grew up in a creek!" If I say it too early in a conversation, or too eagerly, I sometimes get a look -- or a question... "You grew up in a creek??” The answer is Yes.

In my mind, there's a timeline of my childhood. And on that timeline, the longest memorable stretches were those spent in Richland Creek, outside of my house at the outskirts of Nashville, TN. I hardly remember a day that I wasn't knee deep in the Creek, exploring, playing, and pushing my limits. Catching crawdads, fishing, swimming, building dams, looking for snakes, building forts; you name it, we did it. 

Unbeknownst to me then, I was learning many qualities that have remained with me for my entire life. How to bait a hook, how to turn over a rock just right so the water clears but the crawdad doesn't get away, the deep holes, the slippery spots, teamwork, where to go, where not to go -- for me, like so many kids, outside creative play was the cornerstone building block for the rest of my life. 

This is why we're starting River Mountain. 

When we first arrived at the Showalter farm, I knew we had found the right spot for our youth retreat. The beauty of the valley and Sweet Root Creek was only exceeded by the kindness of Kurt and Christi Bonello. This kindness that has been a constant with all the people we've met and worked with on our project in Bedford County. 

Our River Mountain team believes spending less time on screens and more time outside is healthy for young people. We've partnered with Penn State to create an outdoors programs that help children strengthen the real life skills weakened by screen time: 

  • Focus and attention
  • Peer-to-peer relatedness
  • Self determination

Hikes in Buchanan State Forest, canoe trips down the Juniata, environmental education about the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, making maple syrup... The programming opportunities are endless for kids to get their hands dirty and work together.

Becca G – Faces of River Mountain

By Meghan | April 1, 2020

Meet Becca Gurney, Founder of Design Choice, a boutique graphic design studio in Washington, DC. Becca and her team work with progressive clients to make the world a better place, by encouraging entrepreneurial endeavors, advancing social justice and women’s causes, and supporting women in leadership positions. She’s also the creative genius behind our print designs and an absolutely awesome human.

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National Day of Unplugging

By Meghan | March 5, 2020

Tomorrow is National Day of Unplugging. Take time to unplug from your phone and reconnect with each other and the world around you at River Mountain Digital Wellness Retreat!

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Field Trips at River Mountain

By Ryan | February 11, 2020

River Mountain’s school programs teach screen time management and digital citizenship to help students flourish in school and at home.

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The Benefits of Camp

By Ryan | February 6, 2020

There’s a lot of great research about the benefits of camp experiences for young people. Over the past 12 months, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several of those researchers, including our own team member Pete Allison from Penn State, and I’m grateful for their work establishing a greater understanding of camps’ impacts on child development.

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Restorative Vision – Nature and Wellness Retreat Design

By Meghan | February 3, 2020

Every element of River Mountain Retreat is intentionally designed to add to the restorative experience of our guests. One key aspect of this is in the design of our cabins and wellness retreat facilities.

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Summer Camp near Washington D.C., Yet a World Away

By Ryan | January 17, 2020

Conveniently near Arlington County, Montgomery County, and Fairfax County families, River Mountain summer camps are ideal for DC parents’ busy schedules.

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Best Summer Camp for Active Pittsburgh Kids

By Ryan | January 9, 2020

Only 2 hours away from the Steel City and featuring all the outdoor activities that kids love, River Mountain is the best summer camp for active Pittsburgh kids.

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A Decade of Technology

By Meghan | December 31, 2019

Looking back on the past decade of technology – rapid developments, rapid adoption and rapid optimization. It all happened so fast.

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Reconnecting Over the Holidays

By Meghan | December 20, 2019

As a parent, the holidays are hectic. Parties, presents, and of course, the kids being off from school. With all of the running the season brings, it’s easy to forget that this is a time of year where we can pause, exhale, and find joy in what surrounds us.

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Design and Development – A Restorative Relationship with Nature

By Ryan | November 6, 2019

From the beginning of the River Mountain land development process, we’ve had 3 goals in mind…

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Upcoming Camps