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Eco-inn promises peace, pampering

MAIDEN ROCK -- It took years of searching, but when John Huffaker and Charlene Torchia first set eyes on the property in Pierce County's town of Salem, they knew they had found a home for their dream.

Three years later, the couple is ready to welcome guests to the inn they've built on 67 acres of prairie and hilly woodland.

"We were trying to create a quiet, peaceful place," said Huffaker. People can book a room at Journey Inn for a brief timeout or arrange a retreat or workshop, complete with life coaching and massage sessions.

Huffaker is a psychologist who has been in private practice in Minneapolis for 25 years. Torchia, who is originally from Pennsylvania, has been a massage therapist for 20 years. They've been married for 13 years.

They've jointly offered workshops at other retreat centers in Minnesota and knew what they were looking for when they began the search for their own inn. The site had to be secluded and had to have a southern exposure suitable for the solar collectors that would provide much of the heat for the building.

"That was not as easy to find as you might think," said Huffaker. Finding the ideal location in Pierce or Pepin counties for the eco-inn they envisioned took time.

"Most of it was wandering on our own for the first few years," said Huffaker. They also worked with real estate agents, but it was on one of their solo trips that they noticed a "For sale" sign and drove down the gravel road to the land that would become theirs.

"We really knew this was it," said Huffaker.

"It's perfect because it's so private and protected," agreed Torchia.

They bought the pre-fabricated house and 47 acres adjacent to the Morgan Coulee State Natural Area, a restored native goat prairie. They later bought another 20 acres to assure privacy from the other side.

They've built a pole building with solar panels on the roof and are living in the original house while the inn is being built. Ground was broken for the inn last July.

Once construction is completely done, the couple will move into one side of the inn, leaving the house for office space, therapy rooms and a gathering area.

Along with their home and a central dining/ sitting room, the inn has four guest rooms, each designed to reflect one of the natural elements: earth, air, fire or water.

Each of the rooms includes a private bathroom, patio or balcony and separate entrance. Natural earthen plasters and clay paint were used on many of the walls as Torchia, Huffaker, family and friends did finishing work.

The beds are made with natural latex foam, wrapped in wool and organic cotton, held by wood frames harvested from sustainably-managed forests.

The 24 solar collectors on the shed hold anti-freeze that heats up quickly and circulates to the basement of the inn where it warms water in a 600-gallon tank. The water flows under the floors to provide heat to the inn. It will also heat hot water in the summer and preheat water in the winter.

Journey Inn will serve brunch on weekends and a breakfast buffet during the week.

The grounds include a seven-circuit labyrinth as well as trails for hiking and snow-shoeing. Bicycles are be available for guests who wish to bike into Maiden Rock for meals or shopping.

The inn will offer couples' workshops and "girlfriend" weekends. Torchia will begin booking massages in June and will offer weekend packages along with one daughter, who is also a massage therapist, and another who is an esthetician.

Huffaker and Torchia will hold retreats and workshops at Journey Inn, but he plans to continue his private practice in Minneapolis for a couple of years yet.

Weekend rates are $150 per night, double occupancy. The Sunday through Thursday rate is $110 per night for one person or $135 for double occupancy. Week-long rates are $740 per week for a single person or $840 per week for double occupancy.

Massage services range from $75 to $110.

For more information, go to the inn's Website at or call 715-448-2424.