Land Park couple finds retirement passion: building a tree house resort for foster kids

The Cardosa family is turning this land in Camino into a retreat for foster children.
The Cardosa family is turning this land in Camino into a retreat for foster children.

Bob and Anne Cardosa just wanted to buy a bit of property, build a house, and retire.

It was 2017. Their lives seemed to be on a settled track. Bob worked for the state. He and Anne also ran businesses out of their Land Park home; he taught woodworking, she taught sewing.

“The majority of our students have been middle-to-high income,” said Anne. “Through the years, we’ve had dinner table conversations about how lucky the kids are.” She describes summer vacations in Europe, spring breaks in Hawaii. “They just have beautiful lives, you know?”

Even so, they always thought, “Who are the kids that don’t get all this good stuff?”

One answer, Anne says, was foster children. It’s an answer that has led them to reshape their lives in retirement, focusing on building a mountain retreat for foster children.

Ten acres of forest property

The Cardosas fell in love with a 10-acre forest property in Camino, past Placerville and close to Highway 50. It was populated with oak trees and evergreens, with a year-round stream running the curvature of the property.

The land wasn’t flat, but that was OK; the Cardosas just happened to like tree houses, and they decided to build one for themselves.

They also learned about Shinrin-yoku, Japanese for “forest bathing.” Shinrin-yoku is a type of nature therapy; it’s said to relieve stress and anxiety, and depression. Studies have suggested that spending time in a forest can lower cortisol, pulse, and blood pressure.

Bob describes it as “kind of like sun bathing – you’re sitting in the sun, getting the rays. ... Only you’re in the forest, getting the nutrients that the trees give off.”

The Cardosas decided to turn their new property into a day retreat for foster kids – a place to experience nature and recharge.

“We both prayed about it completely separately, and we got our own answers separately,” said Anne.

The couple is in the process of setting up a nonprofit, which they’re calling “Our Healing Forest.”

They plan to build a wood shop, a network of tree house forts and suspension bridges, and a forest playground with zip line, swings, and log teeter totter.

The couple is also developing plans for a tree stage. The stage will be a venue for concerts to raise funds for the program.

“There are no tree house stages anywhere,” said Bob. “This is a one-of-a-kind venue.”

Anne is studying to becoming a life coach. She wants to teach the kids about how important their thoughts are, and “how their thoughts create their whole life.”

Raising funds for a nonprofit

In February, Bob Cardosa retired from CalPERS to focus on the retreat. In May, he and Anne sold their Land Park home to help fund the project.

They currently live in a rental in Land Park. Meanwhile, they’re looking for a mobile home to park on their property while their tree residence is being constructed.

“We’re all in,” said Bob.

But it’s an expensive project.

“You have to get it all done properly if you want to do it right,” said Bob. That means bringing in a certified arborist to inspect the trees, a designer to create the building plans, and an engineer to ensure structural stability.

The Cardosas have already spent thousands of dollars without even breaking ground.

According to Bob, they’ve raised about $6,000 between their GoFundMe page and private donations.

It’s difficult for people to donate to something that’s still just an idea, he explains. “You need to be doing something and showing results before people are going to say, ‘OK, I want to invest in that, because it’s actually doing something for people.’”

The couple also has to navigate the county permit process. “El Dorado has never approved a tree house before,” said Bob. They also need a conditional use permit, which might take four to six months.

At first, the Cardosas planned to finish all the construction before opening the forest up to children. But that would delay their projected start date to next spring.

So they formed a new strategy.

“We’re going to start doing some activities that don’t involve a lot of costs, so we can actually get kids down here,” said Bob.

The Cardosas now plan to start bringing kids in as early as late summer/early fall for low-cost activities like nature walks and music therapy.

They are confident their forest will nurture kids in need.

“I’ve heard someone say you can’t enter a tree house without smiling,” Bob said. “And it’s really true.”