Who is behind Magic Tree Sanctuary?
Bob Wray, founder
When I was in the 5th grade, my dad said we were going on a camping trip in the mountains of Virginia during Christmas break. We packed our winter sleeping bags and off we went. When we got out of our car, there was a gentleman waiting for us. He said we’d have to hike the rest of the way in.
The fresh snow on the ground was quite deep, posing a challenge for us kids as well as the adults. We trudged across a small creek and headed into the thickest woods and rhododendron that I had ever seen. I’d also never seen trees as big as the grove of giant Hemlocks on the other side of the creek. It was absolutely wonderful and truly magical! I get goosebumps just thinking about it. We hiked for quite a while before we found a spot big enough for the tarp which we hung between two young Hemlock trees. I will never forget that night spent sleeping on top of the snow.
The next year, my dad purchased the property. It was the beginning of a long journey that would eventually lead me back to these woods.
My mom and dad retired here in the mid 60’s. My adult life had taken me away—from Virginia to California and to several states in between. In 1980, my dad was killed in an accident while caring for the property he so deeply loved. I knew my mother couldn’t stay here alone so I dropped my plans to relocate to Florida and moved back to the mountains.
In 2000, I walked out into the same woods and taught myself how to climb a tree on rope. I was instantly hooked and took up the sport of recreational tree climbing. In 2003, at 92 years of age, my mother passed away. She knew how much I loved this property and so she left it to me. Two years later, I started Blue Ridge Tree Climbing and have been teaching people how to climb trees here ever since.
There may be a time when I’ll have to stop climbing but I still want to share this wonderful place with others. That’s why I’m happy to be starting this new chapter called Magic Tree Sanctuary.
Most of the people that come here recognize that there’s something special about these woods. For me, the only word that comes close to describing this place is “magical”. If you spend any time walking the trails leading from tree to tree you’ll probably feel it too.
Julie Sczerbinski, Founder and Certified NaTure & Forest Therapy guide (in Practicum)
I’ve always been drawn to nature.
Growing up in the suburbs, I was lucky enough to have protected wetlands behind my house. Many childhood hours were spent in those woods and most were in the company of a giant beech tree with leaves larger than a man’s hand. It’s long limbs bent towards the ground, almost touching the grass. When I stood underneath, it was like hiding in a secret place surrounded by a green protective shield. I felt calm, secure and so alive.
I lost that feeling in the hustle and busyness of adult life. Over the last 15 years, I’ve caught glimpses of it while gardening and more recently, in beekeeping but it still eluded me.
Fortunately, everything changed the day my family decided to purchase a home in the mountains. After a year of searching, we found the perfect place—a little cabin surrounded by soft, green ferns and a bubbling creek, nestled in rhododendron-filled woods.
Now, every time I leave the city and come to the mountains, I experience those childhood feelings again. There’s an undeniable energy on this land. Spending time here, I feel connected to something larger than me—- a sense of belonging and unity. I feel calm, secure and so alive.
In June 2019, I completed an immersive training by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs to become a certified Nature and Forest Therapy Guide. Currently, I am in the 6 month practicum which results in full certification by the end of the year.
My desire is to create a place where people can get away and connect with nature—slow down, observe, listen, touch, breathe, and just be. I believe this connection is vital to not only create the motivation needed to care for the natural world but to nurture the relationship with one’s self.
Magic Tree Sanctuary is just the place. There’s a stillness emanating from the trees and when you tap into it, you have access to an inner peace that sustains and nourishes you—body, mind and spirit. I’m excited for the opportunity to share the land’s medicine with you.