PETERSBURG – Lush wooded areas are often hard to find in the middle of a city where houses and buildings are crammed on top of each other. A Taoist group from Petersburg is hoping to transform the vacant woods next to Blandford Academy into a natural area pleasing to the public, which will also serve as the site of the future temple.
Site plans include such items as a meditation trail, gazebo, picnic areas, and community garden space with edible and possibly medicinal plants for visitors to enjoy.
The group behind this new natural area is Little Creek Kung Fu. He is perhaps best known for teaching martial arts, but the group is also a religious community. Taoist beliefs include a holistic approach to spirituality and humanity, which can include physical health, mental health, and community service. The new natural area serves as a way to bring all of these pieces together.
Little Creek Kung Fu is currently practicing Taoism and Martial Arts in a small space under the trees on Burch Street. This new temple project would take the area to a whole new level, with the aim of beautifying this part of the city.
âI’m looking to be able to offer people a space, not only to offer them things or to bring people together, but also to have a beautiful space,â said Alex Bechtold of Little Creek Kung Fu, a Taoist (Dao) priest. âEven the terrain we have now is so beautiful, just walking there is so much calmer, secluded, safe and a part of nature. I’m really excited to be able to offer this on a large scale to our community. ”
The whole project will start in phases. Little Creek is currently in the process of purchasing four municipal properties along N. Burch Street, which total approximately one acre. They must be developed into natural paths and community gardens.
Long-term plans include the purchase of additional wooded properties surrounding these plots which total five acres. A Taoist temple and altar would be built at the center of these five acres. Public meditation trails are planned to extend further into this area.
Little Creek says these trails and structures are meant to be built in the least disruptive way possible to preserve the forest.
âIt’s rare to have this kind of wooded area, this pristine wilderness island in a city, so we don’t want to disturb that,â Bechtold said. âWe really want to nurture native plants and animals and produce something that will support what we want to do on earth and keep its natural setting. ”
The woods of Burch Street have been used as a dumping ground for a number of the city’s residents. Bechtold describes the woods as a long, flat area crossed by two ravines. Inside these ravines, people dumped garbage like old engines, car parts, and household furniture.
Since moving into his small wooded space earlier this year, Bechtold and others in his congregation have hauled as much trash from the woods as possible. He said they had seen new waste completely dwindle over the past four weeks.
The finished project and the Taoist lands will include the purchase of a house nearby to use as office space and the main entrance to the land. Signage will tell visitors how to navigate the park and what areas they can access. Most of the land will be accessible to the public, with some minor no-go areas for the storage of sacred artifacts.
Taoism is practiced by relatively few people in the United States with approximately 30,000 practitioners nationwide. Taoist sites are hard to find, and Bechtold hopes it might one day be a safe haven for people.
âThere is currently no place in the United States where a Taoist can go and live for free, continue their Dao study, and contribute to community service programs (which is difficult to do when working to pay the cost of life), “Bechtold said via text message.” These types of inhabited temple facilities exist all over the world. My personal goal is to offer one here in this city, to help develop Taoism in the United States and also attracting more community motivated people to come and live and stay and raise this city as they call Petersburg their home.
Little Creek is currently awaiting final city signing to take over the first four plots and begin work on the first acre of land.
Most of the work should be done by hand through volunteer efforts, using only paid labor when absolutely necessary. The group is largely funded by donations from its congregation and community supporters.