Local newspaper article with Blue Moon Rising

 In Hobbitat News

The hillsides and slopes of the Deep Creek Lake area have been dotted with a wide range of living spaces over the recent years, chiefly condominiums packed tightly together, with land owners utilizing their space as economically and efficiently as possible. Hotels, condos, and rental houses are visible at nearly every cove, as developers have jumped in across the shoreline to build vacation spots to lure every sort of visitor.

There is one development at the lake that is decidedly unique, standing alone in the plethora of the more commonplace projects. The Blue Moon Rising (BMR) Center for Sustainable Education Inc., a non-profit organization founded and led by developer Lisa M. Jan, is indeed a new thing – made of old things. Those involved in its founding hope it will eventually become the “brand” of Deep Creek Lake and Garrett County.

The mantra of the Blue Moon Rising project is born of the three R’s – Reclaimed, Recycled, and Recyclable. The entire 15-acre development, located along Rt. 219 near Gravelly Run Road, across the highway from the site of the former Point View Inn, is based on a “green” philosophy. It is to be a conference/convention center, offering educational resources and facilities for local businesses, educators, artists, farmers, community members, and vacationing residents, that “cultivates economic, environmental, and social sustainability,” according to the company’s web site, located at bluemoonrising.org.

Lisa’s vision back in 2008 was to integrate vacation rental properties with sustainable educational services. A graduate of the University of Maryland in both math and computer science, she worked for Westinghouse for many years while living in Northern Virginia. When she became the mother of three daughters, she opted to stay home with them. However, she offered her help as a volunteer in a number of capacities, one of which was working with young people – some high risk, and all with various needs, such as teenage pregnancy. (Her own charge is just about to finish her master’s degree in education, with a daughter who is now 8 years old.)

Through this experience, Lisa was compelled and inspired to continue to offer help and service to the community, while at the same time foster an understanding and appreciation of the environment. Her family has had a cabin at Deep Creek Lake for more than a decade now, and Lisa has always felt at home on the Mountaintop.

“From the first time I came to Garrett County, there was just something about it. I would drive through Sidling Mountain, and I would take a deep breath and think, ‘Okay. I’m heading home now.’ It has just always felt like home to me. I love it here,” she said. “And now I want to bring people here, to this lovely place, and to try to share with them things we can do to take care of our planet, and make sure it’s still intact for our kids.”

She wished for the design of her center to represent respect of the planet by consisting of structures that would preserve the area, and also be completely recyclable, or “compostable.” In other words, all the structures built could feasibly decompose back to the earth with very few traces remaining, no pollutants, no plastics, nothing everlasting.

So she found the property and began researching her project some years back. In what could be considered a continuation of the “use the resources available” theme, she hired local builders, landscapers, craftsmen, and plumbers. She also hired her “green team,” three young, educated people, each of whom she met while spending time in Garrett County over the years, and who have joined her in the planning and development of the center.

The construction is well under way, and Lisa and her green team have set their sights on opening next summer. The team members are Elliott Perfetti, a graduate of Northern High School and West Virginia University, with a degree in electrical engineering; Bryan Barnard, a graduate of Southern High School and Frostburg State University with a degree in environmental science; and Maureen Myers, originally of Gaithersburg, but a life-longtime summer lake resident who earned a master’s degree in architecture from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Lisa has hired all three on a full-time basis to assist in bringing the project to fruition, and then staying on to operate it.

The center features a main building on the premises, plus small housing units, or “Waldens,” based on the well-known Henry David Thoreau cabin at Walden Pond. Lisa wished to create these with as little damage to the surroundings as possible. Every tree that had to come down, which were relatively few, was to be used in some aspect of the development; every shovel of dirt was to be incorporated somewhere else.

The main building is nearly complete now, and just barely visible from Rt. 219. The structure is somewhat oddly shaped, surely unlike any other in the area. Its walls consist of straw bale, packed with a white substance. In keeping with the Three R’s philosophy, the dirt removed during excavating foundations was carefully sifted and mixed with clay, water, and lime to become the natural plaster coatings on the interior and exterior walls.

The interior of the first room is striking, with a huge wooden beam through the middle of the ceiling, which is painted sky blue, dotted with clouds. There is a highly efficient masonry stove in the room which is capable of heating the entire structure.

Throughout the interior, all edges are soft and rounded, and natural light floods each room, creating a comfortable and pleasant aura. Works of art gathered from a range of sources – artist friends, sales, as gifts, from cities near and far – are hung on the walls or otherwise displayed. Lisa and the team have hopes of housing a great deal of art at the center, with the goal of helping to promote the work of local artists and craftspeople.

The kitchen is fully equipped with appliances that are “planet-friendly,” and the dishes to be used have been found and bought at yard and estates sales. On the roof of the building, which consists of sod and other materials, there are several varieties of succulent plants. They are being cultivated there to assist in the drainage of the roof, as well as the insulation of the building. The green team takes care of these plants as part of their daily work.

The main building was begun by one firm but finished by Dels Construction, a local building company owned by Jason DelSignore. Dels’ carpenters, Joe and Chuck Fink, have worked extensively on the woodwork. Heilig’s Plumbing, Heating, and Electrical LLC did all the plumbing and electrical work in the main structure. Rush Excavating has built the roadways and other key infrastructure of the grounds.

An Opportune Partnership

In researching builders for her proposed Waldens portion of the project, Lisa received several recommendations for Bill Thomas of Blue Sky Ventures. At the same time she was looking for Thomas, he and his wife Susan were in the process of morphing their building company into something new.

Frustrated by the sluggish housing construction market and seeking a new avenue for the creativity both possess, the couple decided to design and build unique living spaces: 250-square-foot, fully functional houses that will accommodate four people. And what to call such miniature but completely livable structures? After some discussion (and a few glasses of wine, Bill said), they came down on “Hobbitats.” Thus a new Garrett County company, Hobbitat, under the auspices of Blue Sky Ventures, was born.

This was transpiring at the same time Lisa was building the groundwork for her dream project. She called Hobbitat and a lengthy discussion ensued, with all parties feeling that this was a promising match-up. Lisa came to see the prototype Hobbitat, located on the Thomases’ home property just outside Oakland off Herrington Manor Road. The tiny house was just the thing Lisa was looking for, the perfect Walden. And she ordered 12.

In keeping with the Three R’s philosophy, the Thomases’ small homes are being built with reclaimed, reusable, and recycled materials. The pair has become skilled at seeking out caches of building materials, wherever they may be, and bringing them home. They travel to Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Virginia, in between and beyond, seeking reusable, reclaimed, and recycled items.

As of now, there are three Hobbitats already situated at the BMR, each roughly 14’x19’, with full bathrooms and kitchens, comfortable sitting rooms, and porches.

The fourth house is under construction at Hobbitat. There are four staff members in addition to the Thomases at the company (one of whom is their son Cooper). Bill and Sue design each unique structure. Sue, an artist, works on the colors in the interior, as well as artworks and other details. Bill and crew build the house at the Cranesville Road site, and then it is moved via tractor-trailer to the Deep Creek Lake development.

All traffic is stopped as the Hobbitats are transported through Oakland. (See photo.) The Thomases wisely invested in a machine called a Tela-Handler. It weighs 27,000 pounds, and is capable of lifting the houses and placing them onto the trucks. CN Metals, another local firm, assists in these moves.

The Waldens, or Hobbitats, are inviting, comfortable places, each with unique design, furnishings, and decor. There are loft areas in each house, and in one, the ladder leading to it is on wheels. It was once a ship ladder. In another, a countertop is made of reclaimed doors, sawed apart and expertly refashioned. Light fixtures are made of old car horns, and beveled glass windows, once discarded, have become attractive focal points. Each small structure has its own character, and each is truly a classy work of art, as well as fully functional.

At a time when the building profession was desperately slow, it does appear that fortune played a fine hand to the Thomases via Lisa Jan and Blue Moon Rising, and Lisa has benefited as well. Now pushing to meet the order, Hobbitat and its six staff members have plenty to do. (They have combined forces at times with Blue Moon Rising, too. The aforementioned “sky” ceiling in the main building at BMR was painted by Susan.)

When the entire center is completed, there will be no better advertisement for the little homes than when tourists and residents alike spend time in any of the unique 12 Waldens. The Thomases hope that the orders will continue to come in for their buildings, which could be used as art, music, or writing studios; offices; “mother-in-law” homes; or any number of other uses.

Green Team Plans Big

Lisa and the green team members are hard at work at the site as construction continues. Bryan has been building hiking trails in the woods, disturbing very little of the natural ground cover or topography, but creating pathways for long walks and educational hikes. Maureen is working on the classroom programming that will be offered at the center, with plans ranging from painting with natural materials (students will make their own paper, make their own paints, and then create a work of art), to baking bread in a cob oven.

They wish to teach advanced composting techniques, organic vegetable gardening, discovery of natural building materials, and a host of health and wellness instruction as well. They will open the doors for such things as family reunions, weddings, and other celebrations as well.

When BMR is in full swing and people are arriving to stay, their cars will be left in a lower lot, while solar-powered vehicles will be used to transport guests and their luggage up to the center. As the web site states, there will be no car exhaust, intruding headlights, or slamming car doors to disturb the peace.

As Maureen and Bryan work on the grounds and programming, Elliott is handling office work, and permit and zoning research, striving to stake a claim for BMR as a unique and one-of-a-kind development. The organization will operate as a non-profit, which keeps Elliott busy with paperwork and reporting.

In their spare time, they chip the bark off felled trees on the property, with all materials to be used in some way. They work the gardens and go on shopping trips for specific items falling into the Three R’s category. There is always something to do.

They all three report that they feel more than fortunate to have good jobs, in their areas of expertise, right here in Garrett County.

“We’re proud of this place, and the Three R’s philosophy,” Bryan said. “We would love to make this the brand of Garrett County, or even the first in making it the brand of the East.”

Lisa and the green team assert that guests will not be able to help learning something new every time they step foot on the property, while at the same time they can relax, recharge, and be inspired by the surroundings. They all are obviously energized by their work, and by the potential of their center.

By all indications, it surely will be a most interesting place to go. 
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