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Sauna at an Oyster Farm? Cedar Grove Sauna Has My Attention!

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Guest post series continues, please welcome Tom who brings us to Cedar Grove Sauna in Maine.

January’s Public Sauna of the Month is actually two of them, with a third under construction. Jackie of Cedar Grove Sauna shares with us the story of a compelling journey to provide Mainers with a unique and inclusive connection to nature and community through sauna. She is succeeding beyond even her most optimistic expectations.

Cedar Grove Sauna hosts private and public sauna sessions in a fixed sauna in Montville, Maine and mobile sauna that wanders the Atlantic coastline, where open saltwater allows for year-round cold plunges. At press time Jackie was building another fixed sauna on the same site as the first.

Cedar Grove’s historic home base in Montville, Maine. Permanent sauna on the far left, mobile sauna to the right of it (photo: Tide to Pine)

What’s that About an Oyster Farm?

Jackie is extremely picky about the locations she will park the mobile sauna and her favorite is the unlikely venue Glidden Point Oyster Farm. One of Cedar Grove’s regulars (and a former oyster farmer herself) suggested the site and despite extreme skepticism Jackie visited. By the time she walked to the end of the dock all doubt evaporated.

Jackie parks the sauna steps from the Damariscotta river on a scenic estuary. Between rounds guests plunge in oyster cages shaped like deep wire mesh bathtubs, perfectly sized to the task. The cages provide the most unique cold plunge we’ve ever heard of but also keep guests safe, as the tidal currents in this part of the river can be quite dangerous. Glidden sells shuck-’em-yourself oysters and many a Cedar Grove guest thinks they are the perfect post-sauna snack.

plunging in oyster cages
Sauna guests plunge in oyster cages at Cedar Grove’s top pop-up spot, Glidden Point Oyster Farm (photo: Tide to Pine)

The journey to 2023

How does one get to the point of a busy multi-sauna business though? Let’s roll back the tape a couple decades to when Jackie discovered sauna with a group of friends who built an “extremely rustic” unit. The sauna served as a place to gather and enjoy each-others’ company, but several in the group lived off-the-grid so it also functioned as their primary means of bathing, true to sauna’s genesis. Years later the rustic sauna had been repurposed but Jackie’s love of the sweat bath never faded; she built her own backyard sauna to enjoy regularly.

After hearing about mobile saunas Jackie got the idea to start a business and build another sauna to bring to others. She set off in 2019 to convert a horse trailer into a sauna but it wasn’t easy or quick. Jackie’s high standard of quality, initial lack of carpentry skills, and the trailer’s unique challenges (such as all the rounded corners) conspired to extend the build beyond the limits of her patience. Suddenly she wondered whether other people would pay to use her backyard sauna. However, a spa was born.

On the 2020 Winter Solstice, Cedar Grove Sauna hosted its first paid session. Though in Jackie’s vision most or all business would consist of community sessions. But Covid had other plans, restricting public sauna usage to private sessions. And Cedar Grove was a hit; word spread quickly and guest visits increased steadily. In many ways Covid actually helped the business take off as private sessions made a perfect pandemic retreat. With few options for activities outside the home, individuals, families and pods found a wonderful, safe, healthy getaway at Cedar Grove.

Jackie in front of Cedar Grove's first sauna
Jackie in front of Cedar Grove’s first sauna (photo: Tide to Pine)

Success with commitment

The surprising successes of the permanent Montville sauna provided motivation and funding for Jackie to finish her horse trailer mobile sauna, which she finally opened in December of 2021. Though planning to follow a common mobile sauna model of parking it in people’s driveways for nights, weekends, and whole weeks, she ironically found that moving it was actually her least favorite aspect of running a mobile sauna. And she wanted to connect users with nature more than a driveway permits. So, Jackie pivoted to a new model: weekend stints at a small number of regular sites along the Atlantic coast. She takes the sauna to one of her carefully-curated locations and usually lodges nearby. The lucky clients of the area eagerly look forward to the return of the rolling incarnation of Cedar Grove and enjoy their sweats and saltwater plunges.

Cedar Grove's mobile sauna.  Hey, there's Jackie again!
Cedar Grove’s mobile sauna. Hey, there’s Jackie again! (photo: Tide to Pine)

Cedar Grove keeps Jackie hopping: it’s now her full-time (plus) job and she has a staff of 5 to help keep everyone sweating. She is currently constructing a second permanent sauna on her land in Montville. (Jackie is proud of having personally constructed all of her saunas and hopes to inspire many others to do so as well.) She also added an Airbnb cabin on the property so relaxed post-sauna guests don’t have to get into the car and make the sometimes hours-long journey home.

From the outset, Jackie and Cedar Grove Sauna made inclusivity a core value. From community queer sessions to ensuring her mobile sauna is accessible to people with disabilities, she’s making sure that the populations that may most benefit from sauna aren’t excluded from it or feel unwelcome.

Nature at the Root

For Jackie, nature is as essential to the authentic sauna experience as are sweat, steam, and stones. Cedar Grove strives to help people feel alive and connected; they recognize the vital role nature plays in achieving this state.

The permanent saunas are set in a peaceful Maine landscape. Visitors from Finland have remarked how much the buildings of the 200-year-old homestead on which Cedar Grove sits remind them of a Finnish farm. The stand-alone buildings separate guests from the outdoors by only a few steps. (And each sauna has an antique bathtub outside for cold plunges.)

On the mobile side of the business, Jackie takes the nature connection to the next level. She hand-picks every site for a perfect sweat / plunge combo using local knowledge and skills she acquired while working in land conservation. Each site boasts beautiful scenery and easy access to the ocean for a water dip or swim. When asked whether the experience of cooling off in saltwater is different (many of us have never done so) she admitted to having concerns but was pleasantly surprised to find it even better than freshwater plunging. “I worried people would get itchy or feel unclean like some do after swimming in saltwater. But you sweat that right off. And tasting the salt of dried ocean water on your lips in winter is wonderful!”

Cedar Grove's Mobile sauna parked at Popham Beach, mouth of the Kennebec River
Cedar Grove’s Mobile sauna parked at Popham Beach, mouth of the Kennebec River (photo: Juliette Sutherland)

So, for navigating many challenges to bring incredible, inclusive, natural sauna experiences to the people of (and visiting) Maine, we name Cedar Grove January’s Public Sauna(s) of the Month.

Wishing you good sauna, Jackie!

The hot room of Cedar Grove’s mobile sauna (photo CapnShore)

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3 Comments

3 thoughts on “Sauna at an Oyster Farm? Cedar Grove Sauna Has My Attention!”

  1. Hi,

    I am in process of preparing my garage to have a sauna in a third car stall. Could you please recommend a BIY Sauna Forum and a Heater?

    Kindest regards

    Paul

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