March 2, 2006 issue

What’s Going On at Heavenly Mountain?

Is It Sold? Who Lives There Now?

Story by Sally Treadwell

No, Heavenly Mountain Resort has NOT been sold—at least, not yet. Debbie Triplett, the resort manager, is getting tired of saying that. “A lot of people are confused,” she said, and that includes the bank clerk who was unsure about taking the paycheck Triplett was depositing. She believes that the confusion arose because of last year’s widely reported sale of 5,600 adjacent acres owned by Heavenly Mountain developer David Kaplan. Ginn Company, the buyer, is developing a luxury resort called Laurelmor on the acreage, and local opposition has brought a considerable amount of publicity to the project.

Heavenly Mountain Resort, meanwhile, is indeed up for sale, although it has not been officially listed with a Realtor. Several different parcels are available and can be bought together or separately, according to Margo Lenmark of Lenmark Properties. There’s a high-density ridge up for grabs at $10 million, a community center with pool at $1.5 million, 104 lots for a total of $31.2 million and several smaller parcels. The properties known as the east and west campuses of the Spiritual Center are for sale at $77 million, along with 20 homes priced at $15 million and 9 lots totaling $3 million. So far, some potential buyers have considered it for an artists’ colony or a spa with a world-class restaurant and condos. Franklin Graham is also said to have looked at the property.

Heavenly Mountain was quite controversial when Kaplan started to develop it as a community for practitioners of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique and as a tranquil retreat for anyone, back in 1993. According to the official TM Website, 6 million people of different ages, religions and cultures have learned TM and “it is the single most effective meditation technique available to gain deep relaxation, eliminate stress, promote good health, increase creativity and intelligence, and attain inner happiness and fulfillment.” Most practitioners meditate for twenty minutes twice a day while a much smaller number choose longer programs known as TM-Sidhis, and still others choose a life of celibacy and meditation for at least a short time, belonging to either Mother Divine (women) or Purusha (men).

Some locals feared a cult, although many were reassured by freely available tours of the property and buildings and by meeting TM practitioners in the community. Kaplan also made it clear that the community wasn’t isolationist, making large community donations such as a founder’s donation to the new Watauga library.

“Is it a cult? Well, we do things that are extremely traditional in other cultures—useful for promoting health and a productive life. TM is not mainstream America, but there’s no element of coercion. People choose it, and come and go as they please,” said one homeowner.

Lenmark said that Kaplan’s team had to use old logging trails and literally climb trees to scout the original 1,500-acre property. “We didn’t think they’d ever get roads in there, but they did; I have to hand it to David Kaplan,” said one Blowing Rock real estate agent in 1997, awed by the relatively quick construction of 12 miles of steep, winding roads. The development was projected as a combination of a for-profit luxury resort and a nonprofit Spiritual Center. Single-family homes, condominiums and courtyard homes, all built according to traditional Indian Sthapatya-Ved design principles, were sold to individuals who sent their children to local schools and integrated into the local community. On the east and west campuses of the Spiritual Center, large dormitories and condominium units housed Mother Divine and Purusha. Kaplan also bought the adjacent 5,600 acres now owned by Ginn Company in order to save it, said Triplett, after he learned that the property was going to be heavily logged, although he applied for a golf course permit and platted lots shortly thereafter.

She’s amused by the current anti-development group. “Where were they when it was going to be logged?” she said.

Then in 2004 Kaplan, who had been on Purusha for many years, had a child and married, and both he and brother Earl publicly repudiated TM and its founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Despite a flurry of lawsuits, Purusha and Mother Divine were evicted, the last of them leaving Boone by February 1, 2006. Members of the two groups have variously gone to Holland, India, Iowa and Asheville.

Most of approximately 44 homes and condos are still occupied, although five are currently for sale. Members of the community are privately upset that the dream they bought into was not honored. Each homeowner paid a premium of $100 per square foot, roughly $300,000 to $500,000, towards the establishment of the Spiritual Center as a permanent home for Mother Divine and Purusha, something that Heavenly Mountain’s promotional brochure calls its “Most Precious Amenity.”

“Simply living here you will breathe the soft air of peace and harmony created by a group of experts practicing Transcendental Meditation in their nearby mountain retreat. This intangible but unmistakable spiritual influence is Heavenly Mountain’s most precious treasure,” reads the brochure. Kaplan did not return the premiums paid by the homeowners.

Much of David and Earl Kaplan’s wealth derives from the business Earl Kaplan founded, Books Are Fun, which was sold to Reader’s Digest for $380 million although, according to Publishers’ Weekly, Reader’s Digest has since taken a $188 million write-down on BAF and the company has filed a lawsuit against Earl Kaplan for violating a non-compete clause.

The huge campus buildings now sit vacant. Because they are built to Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL) standards, it costs about $150,000 each month to maintain burglar and fire alarms and sprinkler systems, plow roads and heat the vacant properties. Last year’s property taxes put at least $335,000 into county coffers. This year’s tax bills will not go out until September, but the property is currently assessed at roughly $86 million.

Meanwhile, the homeowners are still meditating.

“Most of the Heavenly Mountain community of homeowners and a large group of TM Meditators and Sidhas in and around Boone are continuing to live in this beautiful area and will continue to generate waves of coherence and peace for the community,” said Tony Miles, a TM teacher. “Our new Maharishi Peace Center has been established to offer all sixty programs, products and courses of the TM movement including Transcendental Meditation.”