Hammering out the Kinks at an Alternative Spa and Carpentry School

An Alternative Spa and Carpentry School in Wisconsin

Text and photo by Kris Radish

WoodWind Health Spa and Wellness Center Rhinelander, Wisconsin

The Northwoods Earth Goddess with hands of steel has me under her spell. I kiss her feet. I am her slave. Marj Champney, owner and director of the WoodWind Health Spa and Wellness Center, has turned me into the female version of Gumby and her massage bed is my oasis. I am never leaving.

I wish.

WoodWind is the find of the century for anyone looking for a quiet, funky, relaxed spa getaway. Located in northern Wisconsin in the middle of a huge forest and surrounded by boulders, ferns, rustling leaves and miles of sky, WoodWind has managed to capture the soul of the woods and mixed it up with equal parts relaxation, positive energy, fun and food.

“People come all the time and end up staying a lot longer than they meant to,” laughs Champney. “I wanted to create a haven, someplace special where people can feel safe and relax, and I guess that’s exactly what has happened.”

Marj, you modest she-devil. Here’s a woman of the world who makes even the most competent human being blush with shame. She’s not your run-of-the-mill spa owner. She built the spa with her own hands. Honest. She’s also a trained chef, a contractor, a therapist, and a carpenter.

Using Feng Shui, the ancient Eastern art of placement and energy, Champney designed and built her 10,000 sq. ft. facility to match the environment. From the moment the door opens it’s impossible not to feel as if you are someplace special and wonderful.

There are beautiful wood floors, high windows that offer views of miles of woods and sky. Plants. Waterfalls. Architecture lines that slant toward visitors like friendly handshakes. The place even smells good–wood and oil and soap scents that are intoxicating from the first breath.

But what makes this spa even more unique is that it is also home for Building Your Tomorrows, a center for learning the art of homebuilding and woodworking. Guests can sign up for woodworking classes, learn to use power tools or take a lengthy course in home building.

Champney and her Building Your Tomorrows instructor, Chris Jurgens, will also custom-design a class for any man or woman who wants to roll up their sleeves and get acquainted with a workshop. In other words, this is the place to get busy, do some hammering, then follow it up with a massage, or two, or three, and some real relaxation.

Reading the menu of services at WoodWind is enough to make anyone’s limbs go limp. Full, seated or partial massages. Reiki. Herbal body wraps. Mud body masques. A lap and therapy pool. A boutique. Library. Hiking trails. The Wisconsin River. Sauna. Aromatherapy. Breathwork. Hatha Yoga. T’ai Chi. Gentle fitness classes.

Upon registration, guests at WoodWind are immediately issued fine cotton robes that quickly become the outfit of the weekend. In addition to participating in the woodworking classes, visitors can help cook, just sit on the comfy sofas, stare into space, sing out loud, dance on the tables.

Staff members all cook and chat with guests and within minutes of arrival everyone is like one, big, happy family. Throw in a chance to eat food that Champney has prepared and planned with the spices of the soul and the earth, and this is about as close to Nirvana as you can get, baby.

The highlight of an adventure at WoodWind is a service Champney designed herself which she calls an Integrative Flotation Discovery. Using a combination of massage, deep breathing and Reiki inside the swimming pool, Champney literally erases anything negative inside and outside her clients.

But the most remarkable thing about WoodWind is not something you can see or touch. Guests at WoodWind know they are in a place where people truly care about them, where they can relax, where they can experience the power of positive energy.

“Everyone needs someone who will listen or give them space,” says Champney. “And this is a place where you can come and be pampered or just sit and be quiet–whatever you want can happen here.”Do I have to leave?


WoodWind has four bed-and-breakfast rooms and a duplex for rent. A campground is under construction and there are plans for condos.

Bed-and-breakfast rooms are $110 for singles and $85 for doubles and include breakfast. Lunch is from $8-$12 and dinner is from $12-$15. Mastercard and Visa are accepted, no smoking is allowed and children are allowed only with special permission.


WoodWind offers a variety of services ranging from $10 up to several hundred. Treatments include full body, seated and partial massages, foot treatments, whirlpool baths, mud body masque, herbal body wrap, lap and therapy pool, sauna and spa bed.

Spa packages are available and WoodWind offers a variety of workshops including yoga, visual arts, breathwork, Feng Shui, Feldenkrais movement awareness, gentle fitness classes and a gourmet wine and cooking club.

Champney will design a weekend, a day, a week or an hour around each client’s personal needs. She also offers meals. The spa also sells handcrafted soaps, candles and oils and CDs, cards, robes, shoes and herbal remedies.

The spa is open Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sunday and after hours by appointment. Drop in visitors are always welcome.

Building Your Tomorrows’ woodworking and home-building classes are also based at WoodWind, and include a variety of year-round workshops and projects. One-week carpentry workshops for women, power and hand tool use and safety, and ground to floor building projects can be arranged.

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