For many of us, “summer camp” conjures images of archery, campfire stories, crafts, and freedom from oppressive parental rule. For kids who attend Camp Bluedog, however, summer camp means riding singletrack, shoveling dirt, and maybe even learning how to wheelie.
Having spent the better part of 30 years attending and working at various summer camps, it’s no surprise that Pete and Alycann Taylor opened Bluedog Cycles with a business plan that included hosting a summer mountain bike camp.
“I’m constantly reminding my staff that, what we do with Camp Bluedog, would normally be done by a team of full-timers. But the instant it happens, it’s the greatest thing we do all year long,” said Pete. “All of it motivates me—the challenge, the unquestionable success, and the way it builds community.”
With QBP Community Grant funding, the Bluedog Cycles was able to:
- Purchase high-quality loaner mountain bikes for campers to use
- Purchase new tools for trail work
- Build new ramps for the skills area
- Cover the cost of camp for 4 kids
Welcome to Camp Bluedog
The first step to launching Camp Bluedog was finding avenue. With 700 acres of land, a commercial kitchen, camper cabins, and singletrack that had been built previously for a local mountain bike race, Sugar Creek Bible Camp fit the bill. Once the location was secured, the Taylors started to develop a curriculum.
“We modelled the curriculum after one that I had implemented at a previous summer camp position. We also borrowed a bit from IMBA’s Sprockets program. Then, we started developing different parts that were important to us, like trail-building,” said Pete.
“Almost all of the attendees leave with an improved skillset and greater confidence—whether that’s learning to tackle technical terrain without having pedal strike, or just getting in attack position.” – Pete Taylor, Owner of Bluedog Cycles
The weekend kicks off with a basic skills session so that counselors can assess each kid’s abilities. After that, campers are divided into ride groups and participate in “stations,” which feature activities like trail-building, skills development, stretching, bike safety, and more. On the last day, campers partake in an “epic ride,” where they see how many miles they can cover in an hour and 45 minutes using all they skills they picked up from the previous day.
And of course, like any good summer camp, there are also time-honored traditions like the staff relay race where, according to Pete, “kids throw literally hundreds of water balloons at us.”
Another favorite are the cheers and chants they do at meal time. “We are always asking, ‘show of hands, who has crashed?’ at mealtime because it’s a badge of honor,” said Pete.
Bring on the Campers
In its first year, Camp Bluedog had about 30 kids attend, and 15 staff. Within a few years, they were regularly drawing in 60+ kids and had to increase the size of staff to keep up with growth. By 2018 there were 85 kids and 35 staff.
In 2019, Camp Bluedog had gained so much popularity that it was on-pace to fill its 85 spots in April for the July camp. There weren’t as many Viroqua-area kids signed up as years prior, so Pete started aggressively promoting it around town to make sure it kept its local ties. Anticipating more than 85 campers, he also talked with the Sugar Creek camp director about using additional cabins.
They ended up with 106 kids and 42 staff.
“The shop got over 20 phone calls asking for more weekends and programming,” said Pete. “So now we’re looking at doing an additional weekend in 2020 versus thinking about how we can cram more kids in.”
What Happens at Camp…Leaves Camp
From the get-go, creating a camp that left an impact on the community was important to the Taylors. That included their immediate, local community, and the mountain bike community at large.
“We start with the kids. Through attending camp, they learn how to ride and build trails. Later their siblings get involved. Then their parents want to keep up with the kids and need new bikes, and suddenly you have a whole family of cyclists.”
As local kids developed their skills and became more dedicated to mountain biking, the community launched its first NICA race team. Now in its second year, the team has grown from 14 inaugural riders to 35. Pete estimates that half of the NICA team has attended camp.
While Camp Bluedog supports his shop’s growth through direct sales, it has also fostered a community of riders and trail stewards. Since the Taylors opened up shop, the town has gone from 0 miles of singletrack to 50. And, each year when Bluedog Cycles hosts its annual trail building day, anywhere from 100–150 locals show up to volunteer.
“Racers are not as interesting to me as community-builders are,” explained Pete. And at the end of the day, that’s exactly what Camp Bluedog has accomplished.