Sure, every company likes to talk about being a family. But at Blue Ridge Outdoors, we walk the talk. In an era of rapid employee turnover, BRO staffers have stuck together: over half of our 15-member staff has been working together for more than seven years, and five have been here for over a decade.
Blue Ridge Outdoors celebrates its 22nd anniversary in 2017, and I’ve been an editor here for 15 of those years. Senior editor Jedd Ferris and sales executive Martha Evans have been working here nearly that long; the potted plant that first sat beside Martha’s desk is now a giant tree taking up half of her office.
Art director Megan Jordan has put up with our late deadlines and last-minute changes for over a dozen years. When our technology director Craig Snodgrass started at BRO over 10 years ago, BRO was launching its MySpace page.
That doesn’t mean we’re all old and crusty (although my gray hair is starting to show). Our young’uns also like to stick close. Jess Daddio started working for Blue Ridge Outdoors one week after graduating from college, and four years later, she continues to travel the region and produce fresh, fun stories, photos, and video. Graphic designers Lauren Walker (six years) and Paigelee Chancellor (three years) keep our ads and pages looking youthful, bold, and dynamic. Our newest employees, Travis Hall and Hannah Cooper, are already celebrating their two-year anniversaries.
Our family has grown steadily over the years, including the addition of our Elevation Outdoors sister team in Colorado: Elizabeth O’Connell, Doug Schnitzspahn, and Ben Young.
Some of us now have children of our own whom we are introducing to the outdoors. That includes Leah Woody (and her one-year-old Milo), Dusty Allison (and his eight-year-old son Bridger), and Katie Hartwell (and her 15-year-old son Gabriel). All told, our BRO staff has over a dozen kids, from newborns to teenagers.
Behind the scenes, eight-year business manager Melissa Gessler takes care of all of us like a mother, celebrating birthdays and organizing staff meetings that feel more like family gatherings.
Why have we stuck together for so long? One reason is that we love what we do. The outdoors is an important part of our lives, and we believe wholeheartedly in our work. We also connect deeply with our readers and supporters, who are like family to us, too.
But the biggest reason for our longevity is our boss-man, Blake Demaso, who has led this family-owned business for 13 years and made us all feel included in its success. Born and raised in Charlottesville, Blake is fiercely dedicated to the mountains he calls home. Appalachia’s trails and trout streams course through his veins. He leads by example—working hard and playing hard, and we have watched his two daughters, Grace and Emma, grow into strong, skilled outdoor explorers of their own.
Like any family, we quarrel sometimes, and we have our share of dysfunction. When he drinks too much, Jedd likes to table dance and show off his hairy chest. Because I do push-ups beside my desk during lunch, our office sometimes smells like a locker room. We’ve learned not to poke Travis ‘T-Bear’ Searcy around deadlines. Blake drops the f-bomb almost as much as Leah talks about her cats.
But mostly we have fun together. In the office, we are a prankish bunch who hide giant stuffed tigers under Blake’s desk and rearrange furniture after hours. Outside the office, we hike, bike, fish, paddle, and camp together. On the trail, we often have our most productive conversations and generate our best story ideas.
We think your own family—whether from work or home—can also benefit from time together outdoors. This month’s issue features our Outdoor Family Guide, which will hopefully inspire your own team to plan new adventures and tackle new challenges.
Our family of readers extends from Maryland to Georgia, spanning a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs, but we all share a love of these mountains. Thanks for all of your letters, comments, and conversations over the years. Your words help shape ours. And we feel especially lucky that our pages—whether print or digital—continue to be invited into your homes and lives.