New treatment center in South Routt utilizes ranch work, wilderness experience to fight addiction
OAK CREEK — The newly opened Three Strands ranch on Routt County Road 16 provides a unique approach for young men struggling with addiction by combining a residential treatment program with ranch work and a 30-day wilderness expedition.
The 1,378 acres, near Lynx Pass and surrounded on three sides by Routt National Forest, will provide men with a chance to step back and breathe, said President Hans Aschinger.
It’s “a chance to dig into the roots and the core causes of their struggles,” Aschinger explained. “And do it in an experiential way.”
Amid the breathtaking mountain views, the program is described as both cutting-edge and carefully designed with an evidence-based approach to address addiction and mental health disorders.
While a secular program, the name Three Strands comes from a Bible verse: “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
Or, as Aschinger interprets, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
There are also the three core values they keep at the center of everything they do — hope, grit and healing.
Aimed at young men age 18 to 27, the clients will divide their time during the first 60 days between individual and group therapy sessions and ranch work. They will care for animals, fix fences, cut firewood and plant, grow and harvest their own food with a very direct “farm-to-table” model of eating.
The ranch is home to cows and alpacas, with plans to add chickens, goats and other livestock. Greenhouses will also be built on the ranch, so clients can help can food in the winter.
Experiential therapy, according to the Three Strands website, is a “practice that helps participants became more emotionally focused and mindful of their surroundings. This systematic way of learning can help increase awareness, so that effective ways of coping can be discovered and old, negative patterns of behavior can change … Ranch life requires hard work and commitment, problem-solving and creativity, care and thoughtfulness. It requires accountability, integrity, honesty and courage — all principles at the core of Three Strands’ mission.”
The focus on young men is a result of where Aschinger and Business Development Director Stephen Latture said they see the greatest need, in terms of the highest rates of addiction and mental health issues.
Another big emphasis, Aschinger said, is on bringing families into the process.
It is a family disease, and families are a crucial part of recovery, he said, and they need to be equipped to help their loved ones once they return home.
There is also an emphasis on the communal and “brotherhood” aspect of working together for a common cause and “experiencing all the joys and hardships out on the trail.”
The 30-day wilderness expedition component begins at “Camp Hope,” an outpost of tents that serve as the base camp for two group treks into the mountains. The men will develop skills and spend time “practicing the art of living with the land, climbing and traversing with safety and confidence, staying dry and warm, overcoming obstacles, discerning the ancient patterns of nature and supporting one another along the way.”
The design of the expeditions will vary with the seasons — summer tents will turn into yurts with wood-burning stoves in the winter, and the trips will adapt to the weather in terms of length and location.
A solo trek is the last step of the wilderness expedition, as well as the 90-day treatment program.
Aschinger, who now divides his time between South Routt and Fort Collins, said he explored other mountain towns but didn’t find the “vibe” he found in the Steamboat Springs area anywhere else — namely one of community and deep ranching roots.
Originally from Ohio, Aschinger’s drive to heal first manifested itself through a nonprofit he started in Fort Collins called No Limits Ministry. Three Strands is an outgrowth of that program, he said, through which he saw the power of outdoor experiences in reaching and changing young people.
Aschinger described the process of developing the business in Routt County as very smooth.
“Everyone was so kind and so open,” he said.
And that includes collaboration with The Foundry Treatment Center.
“They provide services we don’t, and vice versa,” Latture said.
“With less than a quarter of people who need treatment getting it, we welcome as much help as we can get in fighting addiction,” said Scott Borden, founder and CEO of The Foundry.
Three Strands has about 11 employees so far, with plans to scale up to 20. While the center will be staffed 24/7, none of the staff will live full-time at the ranch.
The program operates on a private-pay model, with the 90-day length stints going beyond what insurers typically cover.
That full 90 days is very intentional, Aschinger explained, primarily for showing better success rates than shorter 21- or 28-day programs.
They plan to offer scholarships, with a priority for young men from Routt County, he said.
And Latture talked about redefining success in broader terms than abstinence. While that is the goal, he noted the importance of not shaming people who slip and, instead, focusing on success of reintegrating in family, relationships, work and school.
The goal of Three Strands is to equip their clients with healthy tools and families as support systems and celebrate the ability to pick oneself up after a fall, Latture said.
The program also intends to be part of the bigger movement to de-stigmatize addiction — addressing it as a brain disease and not a moral failing.
For now, the clients will stay in the main house, a grand mountain manor with big windows and an outdoor dining area. A small cabin a short distance away will be utilized for group therapy sessions, with more cabins planned for construction.
The work the men do year round will benefit the animals they care for and general operations of the ranch, but most importantly, Aschinger and Latture said, it will benefit the next group of young men to enroll in the program.
”Everything revolves around service work,” Latture said.
It isn’t a work camp or a boot camp, Aschinger noted. The daily tasks are more of a metaphor for life.
“We are here to meet them with empathy, understanding and love,” he said.
Three Strands does not include a detox component, rather it is a next step after a person is medically stabilized. Ensuring the safety of the clients, and staff, in the remote setting is a priority, they said.
“It’s not about heads and beds,” Latture said. “It’s about making sure the people who come are the best fit for what is offered.”
What Three Strands provides may not meet the exact level of care needed for everyone struggling with addiction, but Latture encourages anyone and everyone to reach out. If it isn’t the right fit, they want to connect people in need to the best resources available.
And Aschinger and Latture acknowledge they are not the “end all be all” in the difficult battle against addiction. But they see themselves as a small piece of that journey — a space in which young men can develop the tools they need to overcome and thrive.
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