Just off of U.S. 131, away from the din of rubber on concrete, a group of local developers are taking steps to transform a 45-acre property in Rockford into an off-the-grid camping experience where visitors can unplug from technology and reconnect with the outdoors.
Founded by brothers Jarred and Stephen Sper and their friend and business partner Kyle Sischo, Detach Primitive is a unique camping ground with the mission “not to cultivate but curate the land, while keeping the spirit of the wilderness intact.”
“We really have a nature deficit disorder, and there’s value to being in nature,” Sischo said.
Natural features of the property include two large freshwater springs, a stream that feeds into a five-acre pond and mature evergreens as far as the eye can see. More than 20 acres will be designated specifically for four-season outdoor activities like hiking, single track mountain biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The White Pine Trail also winds alongside the grounds providing an additional perk.
The lodging will serve as a main attraction, which visitors must hike to reach after parking their cars. Between 10 distinct, isolated sites, campers will have a variety of shelters to choose from such as yurts, teepees, treehouses and smials — reminiscent of Tolkien’s Hobbit holes — built directly into the hillsides. Each structure is isolated from the others and made to block out road noise from 131.
The smials themselves were designed specifically to block out road noise by submerging the shelter into a hillside. Floor-to-ceiling windows on one side of the structure give a pleasant view of the valley and streams below and lend the “Hobbit-style” structures an open, modern feel.
“We spent a lot of time working with the topography of the 40 acres so that all these structured areas were blocked from potential noise,” Jarred Sper said. “We found two or three different areas where the tallest hills were, and we thought of a way to build the shelter into the ground itself.”
Each structure is going through approval for housing one or two people, but Sischo said it could easily accommodate families with small children.
The experience is primitive by design, but campers don’t need to be Eagle Scouts to survive. Visitors should expect to bring their own food, lanterns and gear. Firewood will be provided, wells are available for pumping clean water, and there will be European-style incinerator toilets for sanitary waste disposal.
Each structure will come with a wood stove, furniture — including mattresses and a patio with chairs — and a fire pit. Detach Primitive will curate the experience to visitors’ wishes to some degree.
“The hospitality feature of the project depends on what kind of experience you want to have,” Jarred Sper said. “We get an idea of what they want to do for the week or two or three days they’re there. We can provide different amenities for those getting their feet wet. Some hardcore people may filter their water out of a creek, and some people may want bottled water waiting for them at their lodging.”
The project’s partners are avid outdoor enthusiasts. They have owned the property since 2010 and have been toying with the idea of Detach Primitive for about six years. The goal of the project is to disconnect from modern amenities to reconnect with nature via minimalist and primitive, but also comfortable living.
“I want to encourage people to turn off their phone and put it somewhere it’s not easily accessible,” Stephen Sper said. “When you put that barrier in place it gives yourself permission to be quiet and focus on whatever intentions you bring into the experience.”
“It’s not just a lodging area, it’s very much an experience for people to come and self-examine and through that deconstruction, forge new paths for themselves and change their life,” Sischo said.
Detach Primitive is awaiting local approval, but the partners on the project reported positive feedback from the community so far. Sischo anticipated the structures will be complete within three months from getting the green light and they hope to start welcoming campers by spring 2021.