Healing fair coming to Children’s Nature Retreat on Sunday

Hundreds of animals, from alpacas to zebras, will welcome visitors to Alpine on Sunday for the Children’s Nature Retreat’s annual winter fair and Christmas tree lighting.

Called A Healing Fair at the Retreat, the event will include Reiki healers, acupuncture specialists, apothecaries, healthy food vendors, holistic goodies, arts and gifts.

Founder Agnes Barrelett said the event is a way to promote wellness, and that includes connecting people with nature and animals. It is also a way for people to discover — or rediscover — the 20-acre site tucked into rolling East County hills.

The Children’s Nature Retreat, a farm/animal sanctuary/nature reserve that is home to more than 25 species and 62 breeds among its 200 animals, has been weathering some financial challenges since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Its once steady stream of visitors disppeared in March 2020. The nonprofit, which opened in 2016, needs about $45,000 a month to care for its inhabitants.

“We were closed for a while during the pandemic, then people started coming back, and we had some good months that allowed us to survive and stay open, but some people are scared and still staying away,” Barrelett said. “It has been a struggle. We are down to the wire.”

Alpacas at the Children's Nature Retreat in Alpine pose for photos

Alpacas at the Children’s Nature Retreat in Alpine pose for photos

(Karen Pearlman / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Funded in part by donations, the center has depended heavily on weekend visits by individuals and groups making reservations to tour the grounds. Among those who have not visited in a while are students from local school districts who would come by the busloads for field trips.

Adam Pierce, an animal caretaker at the retreat for the past two years, said it has been a little lonely without kids running around the site, checking out the inhabitants who roam large stretches of property, from the rare watusi, a pack of alpacas and a friendly bison to several slow-moving desert tortoises, feathery ostriches and camels who reside in a realistic oasis setting.

The nature retreat most recently added a family of potbellied pigs, including two babies, found stranded on the side of the road near the Loveland Reservoir, and a group of five Lamancha goats, a breed known for its very small ears.

Pierce said the retreat is an ideal spot for people to learn firsthand about the human-animal connection.

“It’s important for people to get out of the concrete jungle, and see things they would never see otherwise: goats, sheep, horses,” Pierce said. “It’s a place where people can disconnect from the computer, from their iPad, from the cell phone. All that stuff is great and we need it, but it’s great to return to nature. And this is a pretty magical place.”

The fair will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The last hour of the Healing Fair will include the lighting of the site’s live Christmas tree, with hot cocoa, coffee and cookies served. Santa Claus will be on the premises to be part of photo opportunities. Cost to attend the event is included in the daily admission price — $38 for adults, $20 for children.

The retreat is at 5178 Japatul Spur. Visit childrensnatureretreat.org for more information.



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