NORTH TAZEWELL, VA – AUGUST 22, 2023 – Visitors to the region looking for a “glamping” experience need look no further than Tazewell County as Laura Hunt and David Belanger open Stoney Ridge Farm and Retreat, LLC and its first yurt camping this fall. Additionally, the business is a working farm and will provide opportunities for guests to learn about farming and farm animals and to explore its 200 acres of pasture and mountain trails.
Stoney Ridge Farm and Retreat, LLC was a recent recipient of a $10,000 Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority (VCEDA) Seed Capital Matching Grant.
Yurts are long term structures — round tents– situated on platforms and unlike normal tent camping are furnished and usually heated or cooled. The first Stoney Ridge yurt is equipped with a full kitchen and bathroom. Additional yurts to be erected will also be equipped similarly. Each yurt rental offers services like pre-arrival grocery stocking; specially prepared meals cooked in a dedicated kitchen in the main house by Hunt, a trained and accomplished chef; and use of electric bikes. The amenities, which also include cell phone and WiFi services, provide campers with a “glamorous” camping experience, hence “glamping.”
“VCEDA was pleased to assist Stoney Ridge Farm and Retreat, LLC with a seed capital grant,” said Jonathan Belcher, VCEDA executive director/general counsel. “As our region continues to attract tourists from across the country, the Stoney Ridge project provides another creative tourism option with some unique amenities and creates jobs at the same time. The business projects up to two full-time and eight part-time employees within five years as it continues to grow.”
The business is not only a retreat, but also describes itself as an eco-friendly working farm.
“Our goal is to create a private retreat, a place to escape and renew,” Hunt said. “We will house our guests in luxury-equipped yurts constructed on the Stoney Ridge mountainside overlooking 100 acres of pastures, where cows, alpacas, goats, chickens and donkeys graze and live.”
Old timber roads on the mountain provide opportunities for hiking, horseback riding and bicycling. As planned, the yurts will be built in groups of three, offering groups a retreat experience. Hunt noted the retreat will be marketed to writers, yoga lovers, for family reunions and for business team building, as well as to individuals and families. Pets are welcome and horse and livestock boarding will also be offered beginning this fall. Guests will also be provided with electric bikes to explore the surrounding area at the top of the Eastern Continental Divide including the 14-mile “Mud Fork Loop.”
The first yurt arrived on site and was erected last month. It will accommodate up to four adults with room for children in the common area. A second and third yurt will be built within the first three years, with two additional pods of three yurts planned shortly thereafter. Meanwhile, infrastructure preparedness has been underway related to a road to the yurt camping area and installation of water and sewer capabilities to serve the yurts.
“We believe that vacationers are looking for an experience, not just a trip,” Belanger noted. “Parents are eager to show their children something they can’t see at home and to try new things like foraging, hiking, horseback riding, feeding alpacas and gathering eggs. Keeping the ‘farm to plate’ concept in mind, more and more people are interested in knowing where their food comes from and we hope to facilitate that.”
The business is located five miles from the town of Tazewell, giving visitors easy access to the amenities found there.
Belanger and Hunt bought the farm property and moved to Tazewell to manage it. In early 2023, they decided to move forward with opening the farm to tourism and formed the LLC to develop Stoney Ridge Farm and Retreat. Hunt is the USDA designated farm operator and Belanger is the farm manager. Belanger managed the 4,500-acre Cove Farm in Tazewell for 15 years in the 1970s and 1980s before moving to Charleston, SC, where he developed a clam and oyster farm, while keeping his goal of returning to Tazewell and to purchase his own farm. He met Hunt and for the past decade, the couple has been planning the Stoney Ridge venture. In addition to Hunt and Belanger, Laura’s son, Tucker McCleskey, will be employed full-time in charge of gardens, forest culture and all horticulture endeavors on the farm.
“The VCEDA grant is helping us with some of the basic infrastructure costs of this project,” Belanger said. “It has helped us a lot.”
Belanger and Hunt worked with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Southwest Virginia Community College (SWCC) in developing their application to VCEDA and received a letter of support from the Tazewell County Industrial Development Authority.
“The SBDC at Southwest Virginia Community College is excited to see another quality tourism business come to Tazewell County,” said Margie Douglass, SBDC program manager at SWCC. “The successful award of the VCEDA Seed Capital Matching Fund grant will enhance the opportunities that Stoney Ridge Farm Retreat will offer. It is truly a unique, private working farm which will provide visitors a respite from the urban world by roughing it in luxury-equipped yurts. Guests are in for a special treat when they visit the mountain top retreat whether it’s for relaxation and self-renewal or business network building opportunities.
“It has been a pleasure to work with Laura and David as they have moved from another state and have navigated the many twists and turns in getting this project underway,” Douglass added.
Stoney Ridge Farm and Retreat, LLC is located at 3819 Wittens Mill Road in North Tazewell and may be reached by calling 843-343-2970. Plans are to develop a Facebook page and website, to directly market the property and to market it through VRBO and Air BnB.
About Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority and Southwest Virginia’s e-Region: The Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority, created by the Virginia General Assembly in 1988 to enhance and diversify the region’s economy and help create jobs, markets Southwest Virginia’s e-Region and its focus on electronic information technology, energy, education, emerging technologies, and entrepreneurship. VCEDA is a unique economic development organization that manages funds for economic development projects from a percentage of the coal and natural gas severance taxes paid by coal and natural gas companies that operate in the region. Located in southwestern Virginia, the region includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise counties and the City of Norton. www.vceda.us or www.e-Region.org.
About the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority Seed Capital Matching Grant Fund: VCEDA region for-profit businesses, within qualifying business categories, one year and under with less than 10 full-time employees are eligible to apply for dollar-for-dollar matching grants up to $10,000 from the VCEDA Seed Capital Matching Fund. Applicants work with the Small Business Development Centers at Mountain Empire and Southwest Virginia community colleges to prepare the applications to VCEDA that include detailed business and financial plans. Businesses must be located in or plan to operate in the VCEDA region in southwestern Virginia that includes Buchanan, Dickenson, Lee, Russell, Scott, Tazewell, and Wise counties and the City of Norton.