Children’s Nature Retreat Offers Up-Close Animal Experience

Twelve people work at the Children's Nature Retreat, taking care of the animals and working on a number of projects

A new haven for animals is now open in Alpine.

The Children's Nature Retreat is home to about 80 animals, which include ostriches, zebras, camels, horses, cows, alpacas, goats, watusis, zebus, and a dexter.

Visitors can walk right up to the animals, to pet and feed them.

Fifteen animal species roam inside large enclosures on 20 acres of land, designed to mimic their native environments.

The retreat, which opened in November, is the result of a three-year endeavor by Agnes Barrelet, who wanted to share her love of animals and children with other people.

"All our animals are tamed. They want to be with people because of the way we treat them," said Barrelet. "We talk to them, we respect them, and they have a lot of respect for humans as well."

Most were in need of a home or medical care.

"If we can help them, if we can host them, we will take them," said Barrelet.

San Diego resident Sharon Regano heard about the retreat from her nieces, and brought her daughter to check it out.

They especially liked feeding hay to the two camels, Sheba and Banfora, rescued from a farm in Oklahoma.

"I would have never thought I would got this close to (a camel)," said Regano, who also liked walking through the retreat's quiet surroundings.

"I like that it's close, but you don't feel like you're in the city," added Regano.

The retreat has hosted several school field trips with O'Farrell Charter school in Encanto, and is organizing more excursions with other local schools.

Barrelet said the barn yard was a favorite among the children during their visit.

They were allowed to go inside the enclosure, which houses rabbits, chickens, and pot-bellied pigs, under the supervision of an animal keeper.

"That's what I want, for people to experience this connection that you can have with our animals," said Barrelet.

Some of the animals are especially affectionate. A 7-month-old Alpaca, named Neopolitan, sometimes shares a kiss with visitors upon request.

The pot-bellied pigs love having their bellies rubbed, and roll on the ground when they get that kind of attention.

The animals are fed organic sprouted barley, along with their regular diet. The fodder is grown on a hydroponic system at the farm.

The equipment can produce approximately 400 pounds of sprouted barley a day from 40 pounds of grain.

Twelve people now work at the Children's Nature Retreat, taking care of the animals and working on a number of projects needed at a new farm.

Workers have already planted an organic garden, and are preparing the soil for a vegetable garden in the spring.

Soon, they will carve out ponds inside the enclosures.

Right now, the workers are building shelters for the animals who like to sleep outside, and as a protective cover when it rains.

Over the next couple of years, the retreat will add an outdoor campground, so visitors can spend the night, and see the animals as they start and end their day.

"I was fortunate enough to be in the internet industry when it was the right time," said Barrelet. "After that, I wanted to give back."

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