One of the yurts under construction at Savage River Lodge.
By Lawrence Walsh Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
FROSTBURG, Md. -- Camping was never like this.
The pup tent with the sloped rock- and root-ribbed dirt floor with not enough room to change your mind let alone your clothes has been upgraded.
Rectangular-shaped tent floors long ago gave way to circular shelters, but the latter are nothing like the yurts under construction at the Savage River Lodge, 11 miles west of Frostburg via Interstate 68.
A yurt is a round tent of felt or animal skins on a collapsible framework used by nomads in Mongolia, Siberia and Turkey. Although the permanent in-place luxury yurts at the Savage River Lodge have the same shape, nomads wouldn't recognize the many amenities they have.
Let's start with the dimensions.
These yurts are 30 feet in diameter with a 6-foot, 8-inch lattice-work frame, Douglas fir walls, a 14-foot-high center dome skylight supported by 36 curved ceiling beams and approximately 780 square feet of floor space. They are built on stilts and have private elevated outside decks.
That's enough room inside for a king-sized bed, a private bathroom with a step-in "extra-large" shower, a breakfast nook, a gas-log fireplace, luxurious leather and suede couches and chairs, muslin drapes, bamboo Roman shades, woven rugs and "eclectic accents."
Tender tootsies will be treated to a radiant warm-board floor heating system that will be covered by sustainable bamboo flooring. The yurts also will have on-demand hot water heaters to reduce electricity usage.
They have two inside layers -- a fabric liner and a reflective gel insulation -- and an off-white weather-proof outer canvas shell. They're "fully capable" of four seasons operation, said Mike Dreisbach, 63.
They are expected to be ready for occupancy by November.
He and his wife, Jan Russell, also 63, are the co-founders and co-owners of the lodge, its American cuisine restaurant, 18 rustic luxury guest cabins and the yurts.
The yurts are manufactured by Pacific Yurts of Cottage Grove, Ore., which Mr. Dreisbach said are "the premier yurt builders in the world."
"The yurts are a great addition to the lodge property and they fit in well with the surrounding woods," said Peggy Jamison, the mayor of nearby Oakland, Md. She was a member of a VIP yurt tour Aug. 19.
"After seeing them, [they] would be my idea of camping -- sleeping under the stars, literally, with the comforts of home: a soft bed, heat and indoor plumbing."
Gayle Bachtel, a retired lineman who grew up on a dairy farm and used to sleep outside with a few blankets and a pillow, doesn't care for that kind of camping anymore. "But this yurt idea might be all right."
"While we always will have guests looking for the feel of a cabin tucked into the woods, the yurts elevate that experience," Mr. Dreisbach said.
The Savage River Lodge is on 45 acres of private property accessed by a one-lane pothole-laden dirt and gravel road. Drive slowly. The property is surrounded by approximately 750 acres of the Savage River State Forest.
The lodge was built in 1998 and the first guests for the pet-friendly cabins were welcomed in 1999. One yurt will be pet-friendly.
The yurts, four on each side of the access road, are a few minutes away from the two-story main lodge that contains the restaurant that will be expanded to accommodate the additional yurt guests, a full bar, gift shop and conference facilities.
The couple said a majority of overnight guests, most of whom are baby boomers and retirees, come from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Baltimore, northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. Younger couples looking for pet-friendly and sustainable retreats have been frequent guests in recent years.
The area has 14 miles of marked trails, fly fishing, biking on the nearby Great Allegheny Passage and cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.
Ms. Russell said the rate for the yurts will be similar to that of the cabins -- from $225 to $245 per night, double occupancy. She said there already is a wait-list for the yurts.
She and her husband estimate the yurts will generate an additional $500,000 per year, an amount that will increase their annual gross revenue to between $2 million and $2.5 million.