This article was written by Nancy Shuttleworth, E-Commerce Advisor at VtSBDC

Camping on the BattenkillThe Battenkill River is known as one of the best trout streams in the East, and visitors from far and near come to fish, swim, and camp with the river as their front yard. Camping on the Battenkill occupies prime river frontage and has been a favorite camping destination for families for over 35 years.  The family-owned campground was at nearly full capacity in August 2011 when Tropical Storm Irene hit and decimated it. The severe flooding shut down the campground for the remainder of the 2011 camping season, including Labor Day weekend and Columbus Day weekend, which was a huge financial blow to this small business.

Camping on the Battenkill is owned by the Pratt Family, and in 2011, they were celebrating 50 years of ownership. Through the years they had come to understand the river and seen their share of spring flooding and sudden floods, requiring quick evacuation of campers to higher ground. They had learned to not take any chances, and due to their usual precautions, no one was hurt when Irene hit.

During the storm, uprooted trees, house debris, huge rocks, and a bridge went rolling down the Roaring Branch and Battenkill rivers. When the waters receded, the Roaring Branch River was three feet higher than the land, and where it meets the Battenkill River the debris dammed the water flow. After the storm, water covered three quarters of the campground and carved up roadways and sites. Silt covered the wooded areas, open meadows, and 25 campsites. The flood tore apart a section of the above ground electricity and water system and the underground sections needed repair and safety inspections. Bathhouses were flooded, sludge was everywhere, and although acreage was not lost, it was rearranged and buried under a foot or two of muck.

Camping on the Battenkill Post-IreneImage of the campground in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene

Owners Lesley Nase and her brother Peter Pratt wanted to rebuild the campground, but Irene had impacted their land and revenue and future cash flow was uncertain. Unexpectedly, it became an ideal time to refocus and update their business plan. Lesley contacted the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC) in Rutland to seek available funding and assistance in rebuilding their financial loss and to create a new business plan. Lesley states, “Finding help and monies to fund and rebuild was not easy with the whole state of Vermont in crisis mode. VtSBDC gave me an encouraging, knowledgeable voice on the phone and through emails.”  Business Advisor Brian DeClue helped Lesley with a business plan for possible bank funding, and through the planning process, she realized it was time to update her website. Lesley was referred to Nancy Shuttleworth, who, through the Vermont Digital Economy Project, became an E-Commerce Advisor with VtSBDC, and facilitated the grant money for a new Battenkill Campground website and provided online marketing counseling. Now, the new website is much easier to navigate, reservation requests can be made online and via mobile devices, and the new photos are more engaging. The new website will improve the campground’s online marketability.

Lesley says, “The best marketing and public relations advice I received came from VtSBDC.” Although the campground had a Facebook page, it wasn’t until after Irene hit that Lesley took advantage of this social media channel by posting daily campground updates and storm related area information and consequently grew their Facebook traffic. Facebook allowed Lesley to continually update the campground’s customers and dispel any rumors that the campground was closed for good.

The Pratt Family is looking forward to the 2014 camping season, and offering new and veteran campers improved “camper” services and incentives through their new website and on Facebook.