Wounded warrior retreat hits construction fundraising goal

October 22, 2012

Less than six months after breaking ground on the Boulder Crest Retreat for Wounded Warriors, founder Ken Falke announced that the project has reached its $5 million goal to fully fund construction of the scenic sanctuary in Bluemont.

The retreat, on 37 acres tucked into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, will ultimately serve as a therapeutic resting place for wounded soldiers and veterans receiving outpatient care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda.

Falke, a former U.S. Navy bomb disposal expert who retired in 2002, has spent much of his time in recent years working with injured soldiers and their families. In 2007, Falke and his wife, Julia, established the Wounded EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) Warrior Foundation, and in 2010 they decided to use part of their 200-acre property in western Loudoun County to create Boulder Crest.

For many of the soldiers who will visit the retreat, home will be far away, often in the nation’s rural heartland, Falke said. Undergoing a grueling recovery process is difficult enough, he said, but the hectic urban setting of the hospital can add to the stress and anxiety for those who are unaccustomed to such an environment.

He hopes that Boulder Crest will offer relief to the soldiers and their families through an inherently quiet and peaceful setting. Although similar facilities are available to recovering soldiers across the country, Falke described Boulder Crest as the nation’s first and only privately funded rural retreat exclusively dedicated to wounded warriors. Guests will have the option to participate in on-site classes — such as yoga and meditation — as well as off-site activities, and will have access to educational and professional resources.

The retreat will offer four handicapped-accessible cabins, a large barn to serve as a community gathering place, a walled organic garden, a pond and bird sanctuary and a workshop building that will also be home to live-in maintenance and security staff members.

Falke originally projected that the construction costs would total $5 million, but that number was ultimately lowered to $3.4 million, he said. The remainder of the $5 million raised so far will go toward operating expenses when the retreat opens next year.

“We’re aiming for June 1 for a grand opening,” Falke said. An overall fundraising goal of $10 million remains the same, he said: “We want to try to get as much in the bank as we can.”

Direct donations, cash and in-kind, have fueled the project’s progress, he said. Two fundraising dinners hosted by Franco Nuschese, owner of the popular Washington restaurant Cafe Milano, also helped connect the foundation with donors, Falke said.

Construction on the four cabins and maintenance building are well underway, Falke said. Roofing on the buildings is expected to be completed by early winter, allowing for the installation of plumbing, electrical infrastructure, flooring and other interior systems during the cold months, he said.

“I think there’s a lot of excitement,” he said. “The cabins are beautiful . . . the excitement continues to build because of the quality of the cabins and nearness” to Walter Reed.

Volunteers — including Eagle Scouts and firefighters — have also helped move the project along, Falke said. The retreat plan includes a long walkway extending from the cabins to the pond, along a quiet creek, with a “rest sanctuary” — either a picnic table or a bench — every 100 meters along the path.

Eagle Scouts finished the first rest sanctuary recently, Falke said, and another will be completed this month.

The retreat will accommodate up to 20 overnight guests, who are invited to stay for up to 14 nights, Falke said. Soldiers and their family members can reserve space on a first-come, first-served basis. Priority will be given to those receiving outpatient care at Walter Reed.

As construction has proceeded, Falke has been kept busy with his work through the Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation, conducting fundraisers and helping to support soldiers and their families.

“It’s hectic, to say the least, but fun hectic,” he said. “I’m meeting such great people, very generous donors and the wounded families.”

Among those he has spent time with recently are Taylor Morris, a Navy EOD tech from Iowa who was injured in Afghanistan and is undergoing treatment at Walter Reed, and Morris’s girlfriend, Danielle Kelly. A series of photographs of the pair, who have dated since high school, went viral in September after the Web site Buzzfeed published “A Love Story in 22 Pictures.”

Falke said he remembered Morris, who is a quadruple amputee, adding that his goal was to have a simple life, maybe to own a log cabin on a lake somewhere.

“I remember telling him that our goal is to build four, so you don’t have to wait until you get out of the hospital before you stay in one,” Falke said.

Caitlin Gibson is a local news and features writer for The Washington Post.
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