Stowe, Vermont, is an area with scenic beauty, friendly people, great skiing and mild summer weather. For that reason, many people choose the idyllic mountain town as their second home. However, families with children are often at a loss when it comes to entertaining their kids all summer. They’re in a new community, they may not have friends around and their parents aren’t familiar with all of the kids’ activities in the area. Mud City Adventures is the solution. The company offers kids camps to people who live in Stowe during the summers and want to help their kids unplug, get away from electronics, and immerse themselves in multi-dimensional learning.
The adventure program isn’t new. Co-owner Christine Colangeli started it in 1992 when she was in college at the University of Vermont. She loved being outside, and she wanted to share that passion with children in the area.
“I was coaching at the ski club here at Stowe and had a dream one night that I was working at a camp and all of the campers were the ski club kids,” Christine said. “I was living above a coffee shop in town where all the moms used to have breakfast and coffee after they dropped their kids off at school. I asked them if anyone would be interested in a kids camp for the summer. They were so excited about it, and that’s how it all started.”
Initially, it was just run based on word-of-mouth and necessity. Eventually, it started growing, and parents were calling to ask if they could register their kids for another summer camp.
We would put a big sign out on the front lawn that read ‘Go to Opportunities like we did!’
A business transformation occurred about 15 years ago when Stowe became part of the second-home ownership boom. The company began hiring more employees and Christine had to find a location.
The company officially opened as Mud City Adventures in 1994, partnering with Topnotch Resort. Growing almost faster than Christine could manage, the company moved away from Topnotch within a few years and the staff built a yurt to house the day camps. However, many of the adventures were focused on multi-day trips to different areas.
Kevin Thompson joined as co-owner and self-proclaimed Vice Adventurer in 2013. He had worked for Mammut, a company that provides alpine gear and apparel, for 13 years. He was no stranger to adventure.
Christine said, “When I met Kevin, he had another job. I knew that he was my dream man, but his job was a big obstacle.” Kevin responded by quitting his job and joining Christine in Mud City Adventures.
Many of the current staff members have been campers themselves. They remember their experiences as campers, and they have the same philosophy as co-owners Christine and Kevin. In addition, the almost 100-percent return rate helps confirm that Christine and Kevin are doing the right thing.
Every day at Mud City Adventures is a journey of exploration. The staff focuses on making every day unique. Although no days are what you would consider typical, the general routine involves the kids being dropped off around 8:30 am. The vans are loaded up, and the coolers are packed. Gear is gathered, and the kids are whisked off on an adventure. They return around 4:30 pm, and they are tired, hungry, and dirty. That’s the goal of Mud City Adventures.
The younger children visit magical local areas such as swimming holes and caves. The staff will bury treasure and send the kids off on a scavenger hunt or set up a 100-foot Slip ‘N Slide for the children to cruise down. They may also go canoeing, kayaking, or biking.
Each adventure goes beyond the activity itself, as Christine and Kevin work tirelessly to develop a creative curriculum where kid’s can grow their imaginations through each adventure–whether they’re making jam, reading palms, digging for ancient artifacts, or playing music.
The kids who are 10-years-old and above get to go on out-of-town adventures. These trips include backpacking and primitive camping in the Adirondacks, surfing off the coast of Maine, and canoeing around the islands of Lake Champlain.
Mud City Adventures also offers winter programs. These are ideal for children who need something to do during school vacations. Winter adventures include family trips and private group opportunities. They’ll go backcountry skiing, build winter forts, or spend the day ski biking or tubing.
The co-owners credit Opportunities Credit Union for helping to make the financial aspect of the business possible. Christine met Opportunities’ Senior Business Development Manager, Greg Huysman, when she was still in college. She had to create a business plan for a class at UVM and find business lending opportunities to support the plan.
Christine also took a business owner workshop program that was offered in collaboration with Opportunities. The program taught business owners about establishing good credit and saving money. By the end of the course, if the owners had saved a certain amount of money, the state and Opportunities would match it to use for business expenses. That’s when Christine opened a savings account with Opportunities.
In addition to the savings account, Christine now has a 15-year commercial mortgage with Opportunities. When she needed to refinance the building that Mud City Adventures had purchased, obtaining financing through Opportunities was as easy as a signature.
“It was great because it really changed our world financially to refinance this building,” said Christine. “We were able to have extra cash every month to do repairs, and in July we needed to buy two new vans to accommodate our growth. We were able to get two more vans lickety-split to keep taking more adventures.”
The business lending program has allowed Christine and Kevin to help other locals thrive. They rent out part of their building to a local farmer who runs a farm stand there. They also rent out four units as apartments.
Would Christine and Kevin ever consider using a different financial institution? “Well, Opportunities has always wanted to help us,” Christine said. “At other financial institutions, the applications got so much harder and had more requirements, and you needed to have more collateral or more cash to get a loan.”
Because the Mud City Adventures co-owners purchased the building directly from the owner, mortgage payments weren’t traditionally recorded, and other financial institutions wouldn’t provide Christine and Kevin with the money that they needed. “Opportunities really pulled it all together for us and made it possible,” said Christine.
Opportunities is the only community development credit union in New England. The mission of the financial institution is to grow the community into a sustainable culture. Opportunities developed a Coming to America loan that helps subsidize travel and medical costs for the huge refugee population in Burlington, Vermont and also offers an Independence Fund that delivers assistance like hearing aids, wheelchairs and in-home care for those who need it. The credit union takes advantage of every opportunity to help the community.
Greg Huysman actually seeks out these opportunities. He looks for local entrepreneurs who need startup money to build businesses that will improve the community. This has helped the area develop a strong network of local businesses that give back. Mud City Adventures is one of those businesses.
Would Christine and Kevin recommend Opportunities to other business owners? “We would put a big sign out on the front lawn that read ‘Go to Opportunities like we did!’” said Christine.
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