Today is October 1st, 2019. On November 28th, 2018, I exchanged my first email with John Munter, the current owner of the property that we are very close to purchasing outside of Saratoga Springs. On December 2nd I set foot on the property for the first time.
In 10 months so much has changed.
When I first contacted John, after seeing this article, I never thought we would actually get this far. Like any good camp renter we keep our eye on what other camps are doing and what is available. I assumed this meeting would be like any of the other dozens of meetings I have had like this. We would walk around the property, talk about our camp, hear about his hopes for the property, and find 100 reasons why this partnership would not work.
I was wrong.
I wasn’t nervous at all because I knew this was never going to work. The property was perfect. An amazing dining hall, private lake, cool indoor space, tons of open fields and wooded areas, large enough, but not too spread out. A pirate ship. A PIRATE SHIP!!!! It was a perfect Stomping Ground, but it would never work.
I was forthcoming with John about how challenging it would be for us to raise the kind of money it would take to purchase the land and renovate it. That we have never done anything like that before or handled the type of construction that would be needed. I put my cards on the table hoping he would find a good reason to walk away. After a couple of hours walking the property, we parted ways.
On February 7th John and I met at Raindancer Diner for lunch. I had spent a long time thinking about this project and was ready to walk away. We had done some super rough numbers and there was no way this could work. I sat down and the first thing John asked was about a group of camps that had reached out to him. Did I know them? Were we a part of them? I did, and we are not.
He had been approached by a group of the most expensive camps in the country. They are known for being some of the best-run camps that only serve the wealthiest kids. I told him as much that I knew about them, and added that we would never be able to pay anywhere near what they could for the property. “I am not going to call them back.” He responded without a second thought.
Since that meeting in February, I have met and talked with John about once a week. He is one of the most amazing, committed people I have ever met. I have loved not only his generosity of time and resources but his stories and getting to know him.
With John, we have embarked on Stomping Ground’s first capital campaign to secure this property. The property is perfect for what we do, not only because of what I said above, but also the location in the center of a state forest, just a few hours from our largest service areas, and only 15 minutes from downtown Saratoga. It would be a dream come true to be able to give the gift of a sustainable future to campers for years to come.
10 Year Plan
This is a huge project that will take the better part of 10 years to see to completion. The property is perfect, but the facilities need a huge amount of work, we need to build community and connection in the area, and we need to learn how to manage and upgrade a facility. It is the opportunity and challenge of a lifetime. I am unbelievably excited and scared to be a part of it.
Today, we have built out three phases for moving forward.
Phase one is to secure the property and begin renovations to be able to run a smallish camp program in Saratoga. Smallish means ~100 kids at a time. To do this we need to modernize the electrical and water infrastructure, add bathrooms to the activity center dining hall, re-establish the dining hall kitchen, renovate the existing bathhouse, build cabins, and do a number of projects to make existing buildings safe and ready to use.
Phase one is a huge project and will require herculean work from Klee, Ray, and Laura to pull it off and all the help we can get from volunteers as the time comes, but it is just the beginning.
Phase two and three include adding another bathhouse, more cabins, renovating an 1830s farmhouse, building an awesome Downtown Stomping Ground, adding forts, and more. Famously, colleges often don’t put in walkways during new construction and wait to see where students will walk. Phases 2 and 3 are our walkways. We know they will need to be built, and we need to get kids on the property to see where the most pressing needs are.
Traditional capital campaigns have months or years of planning, a quiet phase before launch where the organization hasn’t publicly announced, the public stage, and then the follow up. These campaigns typically take years with huge time done upfront to plan.
We didn’t have that luxury. To move forward we needed to act quickly. Laura reached out to some key supporters and within a few weeks had raised over $50,000 from incredibly generous people willing to take a risk at the beginning of the project.
Dollars and Sense
After working with different contractors, we decided to work with Kodiak Construction, a local firm, to build out a plan for phase one of construction. To be able to have campers at camp, including the first round of renovations and a down payment on the property, we need to raise $500,000.
At the moment we have raised $324,000 from people like you. THANK YOU! To be totally safe and ready to rock and roll we need $176,000 more by November 1st.
This is where you can help. Can you help make this property a reality for 1000s of campers? Your donation can give Stomping Ground a forever home and give the gift of camp to young people across the northeast for the next 100-200 years.
Please consider making a gift today. I would love to talk more about the campaign, camp, or what we are up to. Let’s talk!