Project Sanctuary lands a new retreat center in Pagosa Springs


PAGOSA SPRINGS, Colo. Like the military families it serves, Project Sanctuary, a nonprofit that provides therapy programs and retreats for veterans and their loved ones, was used to moving from place to place. But with a new property in Pagosa Springs, the organization now has a permanent home for its headquarters.  

Project Sanctuary purchased its new retreat center in December, officially establishing its Southern Colorado home base.

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“There are a lot of stresses associated with life in the military: deployments, constant moving, stresses with the caregivers, the teens, the children. The whole family really serves,” said Heather Ehle, Project Sanctuary founder and CEO.

“So our new home in Pagosa Springs is really going to be a unique opportunity to help military families heal,” Ehle said.

The organization lost its original Grand County site in the 2020 East Troublesome Fire. Since then, Ehle described the nonprofit as being “homeless.”

“It was a devastating loss both physically and emotionally for our staff and military families,” she said. “Since that time, we had a wonderful benefactor who approached me and said that he wanted to help us find a retreat center.”

According to Project Sanctuary, the lead donors for the new center were The Milanovich Trust and The Bill Ackerman Estate.

Ehle, a registered nurse with 25 years of experience, founded Project Sanctuary in 2007 with the goal of providing evidence-based programming tailored to the physical and emotional needs of veterans and their loved ones. 

After a near two-year search following the fire, Ehle believes Project Sanctuary has found a perfect home in Pagosa Springs. 

“It was already operating as a retreat center, so it has all the buildings we need,” she said.

The 42-acre, $1.89 million retreat center is nestled in the serene San Juan National Forest, granting visitors plenty of space and plenty of silence for healing. 

The new site comes equipped with everything from a commercial kitchen to a game room to a fireside lounge, along with 15 private rooms, four RV full hook-up locations, and two additional Duplex Cabins. 

Project Sanctuary is planning on renovating the space in order to provide more sleeping arrangements. Ehle hopes that the expansions will allow the organization to someday host up to 20 retreats from this location alone.

The nonprofit engages its participants in classroom, workshop, and therapy sessions, among other programs, which are led by professional counselors, social workers, and certified therapeutic specialists. 

In addition to operating its own programming, Project Sanctuary is hoping to open the new center for collaborations and partnerships with other nonprofits that serve veterans and military families such as Save a Warrior and Tee It Up for the Troops.

Project Sanctuary is currently in its “fundraising season,” though Ehle is hoping to open some “test retreats” in mid-2024. Because the nonprofit is not government funded, it primarily relies on “the kindness of people” to maintain the programming. 

It will be launching a capital campaign in order to raise the additional funds needed to renovate and operate the new center.

While Project Sanctuary will continue to host retreats outside of Colorado in Texas and Georgia, Ehle is excited to call Pagosa Springs home. 

“Success is getting this retreat center up and running, it’s military families getting their needs met, whatever it looks like,” said Ehle. “[The retreat center] will absolutely be our home base of success.”

If you have an immediate mental health crisis, please call Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255. Or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988. 

Chase McCLeary is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS.

Julio Sandoval is the senior photojournalist at Rocky Mountain PBS.