History of Spruce Knob Mountain Center
The Spruce Knob Mountain Center (SKMC) is a 400 acre high-elevation nature preserve located in the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia. The Potomac Highlands feature some of the darkest night skies in the Eastern U.S., the highest peak in the state (Spruce Knob), the healthiest streams in the state, extensive Red Spruce and northern hardwood forests, natural springs, and numerous caves.
The Spruce Knob Mountain Center also showcases innovative, sustainable architecture. Our buildings were designed to complement the beauty of the natural landscape, while limiting the use of non-renewable resources in construction and maintenance. The two largest buildings of the center are yurts. They contain a kitchen, dining area, office space, a library, a classroom, and everyone’s favorite room, the aerie (“bubble”).
The yurts at Spruce Knob are patterned after a Mongolian yurts. Yurts are self-supporting structures which began as movable tents with wooden frames, covered by felted wool and canvas. The American-style yurts at SKMC, however, are meant to stay in one place, and are therefore constructed from wood and stone.
Ulan Bator, our larger yurt, was built in the 1970s. Our other large main yurt, Almati, was constructed in the 1990s. These buildings are named after the capital of Mongolia and the major city in Kazakhstan, respectively. Both yurts were designed by the late Bill Coperthwaite. The aerie, or “bubble” is a small room on the top floor of Ulan Bator, covered with a rounded sky light. It serves as a small group meeting space, meditation area, and reading room.
Our dormitories were built in the 1990s. These buildings were constructed using two distinct styles of architecture. One dormitory is a standard wood-framed structure, but the other is constructed of rammed-earth bricks made using local soil. Each dormitory provides bunkhouse-style accomodations with four separate rooms. Dorm rooms sleep five to six people, for a total of approximately forty beds.
The shower house is a short distance from the dormitories. Visitors may follow a path, lighted at night, to modern amenities such as flush toilets and private showers. Alternatively, guests may visit one of our composting toilets, which function without water. In addition to the larger yurts and the dormitories, SKMC has several smaller, one-room yurts, usually used for housing TMI staff. Three yurts are reserved for visiting guests.
Our seasonal staff housing, the “Earth Shelter,” is a passive solar structure built into the hillside. Its original earthen roof was replaced in 2010, but the structure retains its original character. In 2013, solar panels were added to the roof. This building now generates a substantial amount of power.
What Guests are Saying:
This place feels very special and unique. We had a magical visit. Keep in mind, it’s basically camping but with the extra fun of sleeping in a cozy wooden yurt. We were very warm inside despite LOTS of snow. – Elizabeth, overnight guest
We love the simplicity of the yurt, just a bed in a yurt. It makes for great sleeping. Just being there makes you a healthier, happier person. – Joyce
This is the kind of place you come to and never want to leave so you keep coming back again and again. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect area to be in as there is soo much to do and plenty of great people to point you in the right direction. The yurts are such comforting structures and they are situated on land that will bring you back to life. – Jenn from Baltimore, MD
An unforgettable night in a deeply remote part of WV, our little yurt had just the right balance of rustic and amenities. We were warmly received by the staff, despite arriving late. Checkout in the morning was casual; no one was in any hurry to get rid of us. If you’re looking for a high country adventure without totally roughing it, this is it! – guest from Silver Spring, MD