Spirit Canoe Lodge

Ashe County, North Carolina
Sanctuary Steward: Kelly Clampitt

Spirit Canoe Lodge, a non-profit healing retreat sanctuary, is a 50-acre plot nestled between two ridge lines in the sacred and wild Appalachian Mountains of Ashe County in North Carolina. Its location in the mixed hardwood cove forest at an elevation of 3300 feet in the oldest mountains in the world offers a plethora of plant and wildlife diversity. It is also close to the New River (Kanawha), the second oldest river in the world. The land is noticeably special to any sensitive person who visits and is used as a retreat space with a focus on nature for this very reason. The Mission of Spirit Canoe Lodge is to provide space in nature for those who seek self-development and mastery of life. Each and every event hosted on the property offers a way to connect with Mother Earth and honors all living things upon it. It is truly a sanctuary for all of life, and many people visit the retreat to experience this. The land has a diversity of native and medicinal trees and plants. Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) stands and spicebush (Lindera benzoin) give the woods fall color, and spring ephemerals freckle the forest in spring. Turk Cap lilies, rhododendrons, and azaleas bloom in the summer. There are stands of blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) on the slopes and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) spreading down from the ridgeline. It is also rich in ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). The land was logged approximately 60 years ago but has remained relatively untouched since. The forest has many pockets of different microclimates, as is typical in western North Carolina’s temperate rainforest mountains. There are open spaces, but most of the property is wooded, wild, and untouched. It has an existing orchard with numerous old blueberry bushes, towering pear trees, and twisted old apple trees. It has abundant springs and creeks and a pond area.

Founded in 2010, the land has been occupied by Kelly Clampitt, the owner, for almost 10 years, and she has established a deep relationship with it. She has sprinkled the property with shrines to the plants and the land spirits. She has a good deal of knowledge about the plants and is very familiar with almost every inch of the property. The vision of Spirit Canoe Lodge is to serve as a self-sustaining community that nurtures the human spirit and brings balance into the world for generations. She has started many projects to bring this vision to life.

Kelly has created beautiful functional garden spaces on the property’s living zone with intention. She uses everything that is grown and plants her gardens with this in mind. She has planted hazelnut trees and fig bushes in the orchard and started developing a beekeeping area. Edible and culinary herbs and flowers are just outside her kitchen door.

Knowing that her land is a rich source of plant diversity and wanting to cultivate that, she has transplanted at risk native wildflowers she rescued from developing areas, such as goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), yellow lady slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum), and trilliums (Trillium spp.). This gave her the idea to expand her vision to include what the forest has to offer in the way of medicinal plants to Spirit Canoe’s Vision.

This idea was started when Kelly was visited by a neighbor who asked “to hunt” her land for ginseng, and he told her it was an ideal location and historically hunted. Kelly went looking for it and found it speckled throughout the property, including an area with over 100 plants ranging in age and size. Kelly listened to this plant’s story and was called to grow and care for it. With ginseng root digging being such a large part of Appalachian Mountain culture and tradition, plus its importance in Eastern culture and medicine, Kelly hoped to create a balance between the protection of the plant and the use of its important and potent medicine.

A project was started in the fall of 2019 with the help of an intern, Sidhe Kirk, a local naturalist who is also a UpS member. The land was surveyed, and a medicinal garden was brought to life. Together they hoped to create a safe place to experiment with wild simulated ginseng and a sustainable local market for our sacred medicine. Not only are we encouraging a healthy repopulation of ginseng and experimenting with wild simulated cultivation, but we are also experimenting with ways to create sustainable markets for domestic medicinal herb sales. We are working to heal what has been fractured, not only with overharvest and habitat loss, but taking it to the next level and creating a sustainable future for the medicinal plant market. Since its inception, a pound and a half of ginseng seed, 250 goldenseal rootlets, and 200 Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum spp.) roots have been planted in wild simulated forest beds along a roughly constructed Medicine Trail. More than 500 native wildflowers, including maidenhair fern, doll’s eyes, echinacea, trilliums, ramps, rattlesnake plantain, and Dutchman’s breeches were also planted on the property. Each one was planted in an area best suited for its needs, while thought was also given to where it would be most enjoyed.

Kelly and Sidhe continue to work on expanding and improving the trail through the Spirit Canoe property and spreading wildflowers as the trail grows. It will become a self-guided nature trail through the property for all who wish to visit the gardens, complete with a guide featuring Kelly’s award winning photography beside plant info and lore and a map with sit spots and meditations along the way. Spirit Canoe community members are lovingly creating markers for plants along the way and adding their own voices by helping to build the trail. Sidhe is writing grants and arranging plant rescues to fund and grow the trails, the pollinator garden, and the Native Wetland Garden at the Pond.

We also hope to do our part in inspiring the local community around us to consider the importance of ginseng’s future. We offer workshops and tours of the garden to help educate people about why we protect and nurture our wild plants, while also demonstrating and teaching how one can start their own wild simulated garden or start preserving, protecting, and stewarding their land. As we spread this knowledge and more people have become interested in this important work, Sidhe has started offering her surveys and consultation services through 5 counties in the surrounding High Country area. We feel this work is crucial in our area with a long history of overharvest and the ever increasing development of our wild spaces.

We invite any UpS member to visit and reach out and connect with us at Spirit Canoe Lodge. We recognize through our membership in UpS that by becoming a Botanical Sanctuary Member, we are joining a community of like-minded individuals who can provide us with support and resources. We desire a community of “plant-people” whom we can look to for guidance as we take on important experiments in creating a wild simulated and fair medicinal market while allowing plants to naturalize and repopulate. It feels extremely important to align ourselves with others who recognize the balance we wish to create between utilizing our potent native medicine and helping its survival for future generations. We seek to learn and teach what we learn—gleaning, giving, and sharing to help everyone do their best.

We want to support building and growing a larger community of those who put the earth and her medicine at the forefront of everything they do. We see creating this Sanctuary space as a necessary part of bringing balance, healing, and wholeness to the world community.

Plant medicine works by calling us to connect with ourselves first and then the community of the entire living world. When we want our gardens to thrive, permaculture tells us to mimic nature and let all the different elements work together—to let the beans grow up the corn and squash shade the ground and roots below. Just like permaculture, we know things thrive in certain communities and guilds with people, projects, and ideas. Keeping this in mind, we can help each other grow. We see ourselves helping UpS as much as it can help us. We are certainly companion plants. We look forward to connecting with our plant community.