Jennifer Terman

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March 7, 2013
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Harmony Ridge more than a lodge (VIDEO)

Tucked away near the Tahoe National Forest is Harmony Ridge Lodge, a Nevada City location with orchards, gardens and guest rooms and a destination for retreats, workshops, weddings and getaways.

“I think it’s the best kept secret in Nevada County,” said Marilyn Nyborg, leader of Gather the Women, who has used the lodge many times for her women’s retreats. “Now we have a facility we really could make something of — to have an invitation to sit in the gardens, for example, or by the fire in the living room. It’s just beautiful.”

The lodge officially opened in October 2007 after a year of renovations and construction, which totaled 13,000 feet in three buildings.

The main house building includes a dining room, library, a commercial kitchen for caterers, and a large room for events up to 40 people, and the lodge holds nine guest rooms to accommodate up to 25 people. Harmony Ridge also has two orchards and a garden, an outdoor dining lawn that can accommodate up to 125 people and three and a half private acres of woods, ideal for dogs, which the lodge allows.

The location also has the personal touch of a home-cooked breakfast in the kitchen made each morning by facility manager Debbie Scrivner and Jackie Cowan.

“People love our world-famous waffles,” Cowan said, with a smile.

Jamie O’Donnell and Bob Hofstadt bought the property in 2006 and came to love the area through Peggy and Howard Levine of the Swan Levine House in Grass Valley.

“It was a rainy, snowy January night in 2006 and we were sitting up in (the Levine’s) kitchen near their wood fire stove, and Peggy circled this property (in an advertisement) and said we need to go look. It would be perfect to build a small retreat center,” O’Donnell said. “We were driving up, and all of a sudden, I just see the property out of the right side of my eye and we just sat right in that driveway where the Tahoe National Forest is, and there was a retired old gentleman — he’s the one that built the barn and all those buildings — he’s got a cowboy hat on, and he said ‘Come on in,’ and showed us the place.”

O’Donnell said he was taken aback by the location, the white-covered scene bearing so much potential for the retreat he envisioned.

“I got into the backyard where the whole orchard is, and I stood out in the middle of that yard and had one of those moments like, ‘Oh, this is it. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with this, but this is the place,’” O’Donnell said.

After approval from the planning commission for the area to become a commercial space and months of renovations and building a team of staff and collaborators, Harmony Ridge Lodge was complete.

“It was really like being in a movie,” O’Donnell said. “It was really like one of those movie moments when you’re in a scene and you have no choice but to go forward, so we bought it in October 2006. … We had a lot of guardian angels and helpers and staff, and we opened in the summer of 2007.”

O’Donnell had always enjoyed retreats as a way to lighten up his high-tech job in Silicon Valley and saw the lodge as the location for the next chapter of his life.

“I like connecting with people and sort of meditation and yoga retreats, whether Vancouver Island or down in Baja, so I knew I kind of enjoyed and loved that, so it was like, “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to do this full time? Wouldn’t this be a nice chapter?” O’Donnell said.

The mix of professionalism and hospitality made the lodge a go-to spot for Tantra Maat, who owns a spiritual development company.

“I wanted to do an in-person retreat, and when I walked on the grounds, the incredible care and diversity of flowers, it was really a wonderland, and I fell in love with it,” said Maat, who hosts gatherings at Harmony Ridge every couple months. “I hadn’t really found that hospitable service between family and professionalism in the states, and just their warmness and inclusionary aspect is wonderful.”

The work could not be done without the collaborative efforts of the staff and efforts of the staff and local landscapers, disc jockey, caterers, artists and photographers, he said.

“What makes it work really beautifully is a collaboration of a lot of people,” O’Donnell said. “It really is quite a community and collection of people that bring it all together, and I had no idea that would be the case. You need about 20 people to make this all work well, and it takes a lot of contributors with special skills and backgrounds.

“It was sort of everybody looking at the canvas together,” O’Donnell said. “That was the part that you don’t necessarily see when you buy a place. You don’t imagine renovating it, and the whole community of people comes together and makes it some place that’s sustainable.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email or call 530-477-4230.

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The Union Updated Mar 7, 2013 12:30AM Published Mar 9, 2013 09:11AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.