ISRAELL'CHAIMNovember 2021

Children’s Nature Retreat- A Sanctuary for Animals and People

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By Mimi Pollack

Giving back to others is always good, but when you can give back to both animals and humans, that is even better! Local humanitarian, Agnes Barrelet, is doing just that up in Alpine, heading up the non-profit, Children’s Nature Retreat Foundation. Now the retreat needs our help.

The Children’s Nature Retreat is in a rural area of Alpine. It is a haven for all kinds of animals, including two zebras, three Friesian horses, African cows, camels, mules, donkeys, rabbits, mini horses, mini goats, mini pigs, ostriches, sheep, llamas, alpacas, a bison, and tortoises, etc. There are over 202 domesticated livestock and exotic animals with 24 species and 64 breeds from around the world. They all live comfortably on this beautiful 20-acre property. There are several animal enclosures, including Barnyard Alley, Tortoise Landing, African Grasslands, and Mini and Big Farms. For example, in African Grasslands, you will see the two zebras with several ostriches.

One thing that struck me was how friendly most of the animals are which makes this place especially suitable for children. Barrelet opened this place in February 2017, with the goal of providing a place in the countryside where both children and adults can come and experience the beauty that nature has to offer as well as interact with the animals and learn all about them. The place is serene and therapeutic.

One of the original goals was Barrelet wanted children to feel a connection to nature that would last. Before the pandemic, CNR was working with local schools and organizations to help fund free field trips for schools and children that normally would not be able to pay for them. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, CNR has lost a lot of its usual funding, including daily visitors, and the retreat is in trouble.

The majority of the animals at the retreat have been rescued by Barrelet. Some belonged to people who could no longer care for them, some were just dumped and some were rescued from being put to slaughter. Her place is a labor of love, but an expensive labor of love. It costs $1,500 a day just to run the retreat. The retreat needs a minimum of 80 visitors a day to cover that, but since the pandemic, there have been days with no guests at all. Barrelet does not pay herself from the money raised and she works seven days a week. This place is everything to her.

They had their annual fundraising gala last month, but again, fewer people attended and not enough money was raised, and since there have been far fewer daily visitors, she is hoping some monthly donors will step up and help.

Agnes Barrelet is a formidable woman who is very sweet with a steel core. She is steadfast in her desire to bring happiness into the lives of others, especially children, and to help animals. Born in Nimes, France, she came to the United States in 1993 to get a BS in Business Administration.

She and her 18-year-old daughter, Vanessa, moved to Alpine and now live on site. Many times, they nurse a sick or injured animal themselves at their home. They also live with four dogs, a cockatoo, a conure, and have a nursery for 22 baby tortoises.

During the interview, she told me it was the movie, I Bought a Zoo, with Matt Damon, that inspired her to open this animal sanctuary. Today, this inspiration has become a reality that with some much-needed funding will continue.

To learn more, visit www.childrensnatureretreat.org.

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