Liz Forster

City Editor

Locals and tourists will have yet another reason to visit Pikes Peak this fall with the creation of an off-the-grid spiritual retreat center.

The center focuses on implementing as many sustainable practices in their construction and operation as possible and educating the public about sustainability. Colorado Springs residents Larry Erpelding and Robin Shankman, who have run the project since its start five years ago, are in the final stages of construction.

“If you think about Pikes Peak in terms of hiking, backpacking, or biking, there is no destination place other than the bar camp. The summit also has no type of lodging,” said Erpelding. “The project is basically to build a sustainable, off-the-grid lodge type concept to provide a witness to society that we can do things a little different.”

In accordance with being “off-the-grid,” Erpelding explained that the retreat would use a minimal amount of fossil fuels and predominately rely on present day sunlight for energy. Currently, they have about 3.4 kW of photovoltaic power for electricity and five 4×10 hydronic flat panels with a 400-gallon storage tank for heating water.

During the construction process, they used as many recycled and second-hand materials as possible while still building in accordance the standards set by the Teller County Regional Building Department.

“I hired an engineer to do up all the drawings. It was a very necessary endeavor so that the Building Department approved of everything,” said Erpelding. “If I choose to teach these sustainable techniques to others I want to make sure it was approved by national standards.”

In the creation of the retreat’s business plan, Erpelding and Shankman searched for similar projects around the world for a model of which they could base theirs off.

“We are very unique in that we want to provide a broader spectrum in terms of engaging with the general public,” said Erpleding. “The closest thing we found to match our mission statement and business plan is from the eco-villages that exist around the world. We are definitely incorporating some of their templates.”

Erpelding anticipates working closely with Pikes Peak Permaculture, a non-profit, educational organization in Manitou Springs that offers classes to the general public on creating sustainable habitats and environments through permaculture.

“Pikes Peak Permaculture does an all-summer course on permaculture design, and we’ll likely be part of that agenda,” said Erpelding

The retreat center also will offer spiritual retreats, workshops and guided hikes for visitors seeking a stronger relationship with nature.

“We want to have retreats on a spiritual basis where people can come and get more in touch with nature and their understand of their place in the world,” said Erpelding. “For example, we might bring in a Buddhist meditation teacher that would lead a nature-specific meditation workshop.”

“We are also connecting with local groups like Sunwater Spas that Kat Tudor is building in Manitou to have retreats that teach not only spiritual meditation, but also art and food based educational getaways,” said Shankman.

Erpelding and Shankman are currently looking for hiking guides and construction volunteers to help finalize their project. On their radar are Colorado College students.

“One of my concerns with the guided hike is that whoever is leading it should have a Wilderness First Responder certification. Since CC has that program, I think it would be great to bring a student in who can help with that,” said Erpelding. “I’d be interested too in anyone wanting to stick around during the summer that could work on a full time basis as my assistant.”

People from the general public can now volunteer on a one or two-week timeframe to help with a variety of construction projects happening at the time. Again, Erpelding thinks that CC students would be a perfect fit for the job.

“Currently, we are putting in plastered walls using some of the clays from Manitou and setting up a greenhouse,” said Erpelding. “One of the other things that we want to do is set up a tank to grow blue-green algae for an aquaculture as well as using that water to fertilize the greenhouse plants. We need volunteers for all of that.”

For those interested in working with, volunteering for or learning more about the retreat center, contact Robin Shankman at 719-685-6372, Larry Erpelding at 719-482-4047, or the center at

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