Headlines - New York Times, "Vacation Homes: Seeking Birds, Not Birdies"

Here is an article stating just how important the “outdoor pursuits” amenity is becoming in real estate property.  And Red Frog has that “outdoor pursuits” amenity in great abundance!

 

 "Vacation Homes: Seeking Birds, Not Birdies"

By JOANNE KAUFMAN
Published: October 6, 2006
David J. Swift for The New York Times
Residents at 3 Creek Ranch in Jackson, Wyo., out on a nature walk.
 
David J. Swift for The New York Times
A birding excursion at 3 Creek Ranch in Wyoming.
David J. Swift for The New York Times
A red-tailed hawk in a raptor rehabilitation program
operated by 3 Creek Ranch's resident naturalist, Roger Smith.
David J. Swift for The New York Times
Kat Dunham, a naturalist at the Mountain Air development
 in North Carolina, leads Nathaniel and Emanuel Artis on a salamander hunt.

JUST give the Artis family a salamander hunt “and we’re the happiest people on earth,” Kessy Watson Artis says.

Ms. Artis, 39, and her husband, Don, a real estate agent, the parents of two young boys, recently began building a four-bedroom vacation home at Mountain Air, a 1,300-acre vacation community of condominiums and single-family homes in Burnsville, N.C. And at Mountain Air, expeditions in search of those long-tailed slender amphibians, led by the community’s resident naturalist, are routine occurrences.

For many potential buyers interested in second homes in resort communities, it is no longer enough — and sometimes not even necessary or desirable — that the properties offer golf, tennis and a swimming pool. Many buyers these days want amenities to include outdoor pursuits that often involve naturalists and that are sometimes off the beaten track. In this, they are proving even more demanding than buyers of primary homes, many of whom now want jogging trails in their developments.

“The outdoor pursuits expert is starting to be viewed like a spa — something that’s expected and is a necessity,” said Randy Banks, president and chief executive of Mountain Air.

The 3 Creek Ranch in Jackson, Wyo., offers raptor rehabilitation and songbird banding. The Spring Island resort community in South Carolina organizes plant, bird identification and nocturnal wildlife walks and mountain biking trails. The 14,000-acre Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Mont., which is planned to accommodate 864 members in condos or single-family homes, has rope courses with long zip lines, as well as a permanent campsite complete with a cooking tent, a fire ring and tepees for members who want to saddle up for a four-hour horseback excursion, including wranglers trailing along with the supplies. And Mountain Air has its salamander hunts.

“We were really excited,” Ms. Artis, who lives in Miramar, Fla., said of the two-hour hunt late last spring with Mountain Air’s naturalist, Kat Dunham. “There’s a creek with a water wheel. I was walking along the edge and my sons were right in the creek turning over rocks. You have to catch the salamanders right when you pick up the rock because they wiggle out of your hand really quickly.”

Salamanders, of course, weren’t the only things that attracted the Artises to Mountain Air (http://www.mountainaircc.com/), which is in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. They were also taken with the community’s organic garden, the two on-site naturalists, its nature center — complete with a supply of animals, including a corn snake — and the many organized hikes, including a spring flower hike and a fall foliage excursion.

“We’re also planning to go on one of their whitewater rafting trips,” Mrs. Artis said. “We are not golf players at all.”

THE new offerings at Mountain Air and elsewhere represent a sea change from the raisons d’être for many earlier second-home communities, developers say. Until recently, “everything was driven by golf and going to the beach,” said Peter Pollak, the managing member of the DPS Sporting Club Development Company, the firm behind the Ford Plantation in Richmond Hill, Ga., and the Turks and Caicos Sporting Club at Ambergris Cay, among other properties (http://www.dpsdevelopment.com/).

Mr. Banks of Mountain Air said that the transformation was fueled by the needs of baby boomers.

“They lead pretty harried, frenzied lives,” he said, “and the standard things like golf and tennis are available where they have their primary residences. So it’s not much of a differentiator to offer them those amenities in second-home communities.”

Developers who have invested in naturalists — and in nature cabins, hiking trails and guides — view outdoor-pursuits programs as powerful marketing tools, much like “a concierge service,” he said.

“Not everyone is wired to figure things out on their own,” Mr. Banks said. “If you go out on your own and you don’t have the knowledge of a naturalist you can see the beauty of an area but you can miss 98 percent of the story. Having a naturalist takes the experience to a whole other level.”

Second-home owners, he added, “are looking to broaden their experiences from a physical and spiritual standpoint; these offerings are a way to connect with things they either did in their childhood or dreamed about but never had the chance to do.”

Or could never quite fit into the schedule. In fashioning Ford Plantation, Mr. Pollak said, “We realized that our members’ time was their most precious asset and that they had a great desire to master new skills but wanted to do it in a private setting without a lot of people looking on.” So the 400-home enclave offers instruction in fly-fishing and clay shooting and has an on-site naturalist.

“We also realized,” Mr. Pollak added, “that our members didn’t want to get dragged around from golf course to golf course. They were more traveled and sophisticated than that.”

Indeed, when the developer Jim Chaffin was creating Spring Island (http://www.springisland.com/), which has 400 home sites on 3,000 acres near Hilton Head, S.C., it was zoned for three golf courses. “And we asked, ‘Did we need one golf course, let alone three?’ ” Mr. Chaffin recalled. “We ultimately decided to have one, but we put it within a park.”

The course competes with activities like birding, plant identification and nocturnal wildlife walks, a master naturalist program, sea kayaking and hiking.

Wallace McDowell, who recently retired from the private equity business, said that Spring Island’s on-site naturalist was “a real draw for us.”

“When we were building our house there, the naturalist told us all the plants we had on our property and told us how to deal with them,” said Mr. McDowell, whose primary residence is in Greenwich, Conn. “And if something falls out of a tree, the naturalist comes and picks up the little critter and takes care of it and puts it back in the wild.

“I wouldn’t have gotten involved with Spring Island if it didn’t have a golf and tennis club, but it’s nice to have something more than that. I know a lot more about birds than I used to. I’m pretty good on the shore birds now.”

Through a visiting artist program, residents also have access to workshops and lectures.

“It’s the whole mind-body-spirit thing,” Mr. Chaffin said. “We try to offer experiences not common to a family’s urban existence. I’m not sure whether people would come here without there being a golf course, but I’m sure they would not come if this was only a golf community. People today aren’t looking for a single-dimension life.”

People like Sylvia Kirschner, a New York-based interior designer who with her husband, Robert, a physician, owns a cottage at the 6,500-acre Greenbrier Sporting Club in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. (http://www.thegreenbriersportingclub.com/), where construction has been completed on 113 single-family houses. Ms. Kirschner said she liked the outdoors, but more than the usual outdoors, and so on a recent stay in addition to hiking she tried her hand at clay shooting.

“I can’t believe I’m doing it,” she said. “Did I care that I wasn’t doing well? No. I just like learning something new. Assuming you like outdoor things, the choice is endless.”

Bonnie Vistica, 52, of Stockton, Calif., who runs a natural-gas business, said she scoured the world looking for just the right beachfront property for a vacation home and finally found what she wanted at the 1,100-acre Turks and Caicos Sporting Club. There, on a private island, 120 home sites have been bought and 10 single-family houses are under construction; a marina, stables and a members’ lodge are planned.

For now, visiting members stay in so-called safari tents that are outfitted with mahogany beds, Frette linens, Persian rugs, crystal dinnerware and sterling silver.

I LOVE the fact that there’s no golf,” Ms. Vistica said. “I love that it’s never going to become a Ritz-Carlton. I’ve learned to snorkel correctly through the club’s outdoor-pursuits person. I’ve learned to kayak correctly so I’m not spinning my wheels. I’m learning to bonefish. A couple of times I’ve done the nature walks. It’s a bit like camp.”

And just as at camp, the day sometimes begins very, very early. Just ask Roger Smith, the resident naturalist at the 710-acre 3 Creek Ranch (http://www.3creekranch-jh.com/) who from 4 to 5:30 a.m. several days in late fall and winter presides over Season of the Swans, a remarkable gathering of about 50 trumpeter swans and, usually, a dozen or so hearty souls from among owners of the 136 home sites on the property. (There are 45 single-family houses under construction.)

“At that time of day, it’s about 5 degrees, the sky is crystal clear, and because the pond is warmer than the air, fog enshrouds the swans,” said Mr. Smith, a research biologist by training who sits quietly 150 feet from the pond with his dozen observers as they look through spotting scopes. “Conditions have to be just right for the swans to be here. They don’t congregate in the winter in any other part of the world, but they want to be in this ecosystem.”

Often, he said, after residents have been part of a swan observation morning, “they come again and bring a friend and pass on their newfound knowledge.”

Mr. Smith said that the outdoor-pursuits programs he set up in 2003 — including a songbird-banding program to determine the breeding habits of these migratory creatures and a program to help with the medical care of injured birds of prey — have grown increasingly popular.

“There are men,” Mr. Smith said, “who start off by saying: ‘Arboreal toads? Hey, buddy, my tee-off time is in half an hour,’ who then say, ‘Oh, when are you going out again to look for the toad eggs, because I want to come.’ Now, around Christmas, I get e-mails from women wanting to buy binoculars for their husbands. In my mind, that why they bought property here.”

Such a program was certainly a motivating force for the Artises. “Nathaniel wants to be a naturalist when he grows up,” Ms. Artis said of her 9-year-old son.

There was, however, one disappointment, she said: the only salamanders the Artises spotted were brown — just like the lizards near their Florida home — and “my kids were really hoping they’d be red.”