Experience the first Enchanted Mountain Challenge this summer

Franklinville couple combines creativity and love for outdoors, community in fun new ‘scavenger hunt’ 

Graphic provided

Visitors and community members near and far will soon have an excellent opportunity to combine creativity and quality time outdoors with the upcoming Enchanted Mountain Challenge, created by Franklinville couple Kristen Vanderwarker and Shaun Thomson. 

Vanderwarker, 40, originally from Altamont, and Thomson, 42, originally from Bliss, are both outdoor enthusiasts with a passion for imagination. 

The 1st Annual Enchanted Mountain Challenge will begin on Memorial Day weekend,  Saturday May, 28, 2022 and run through Labor Day, Monday Sept. 5, 2022. Participants can start any time, and can return as often as they like at no additional charge to complete the Challenge.

Photos provided
Thomson and Vanderwarker set up a booth at this year’s Maple Fest to share this exciting new adventure with the community.

The amount of time it takes to complete depends on the participants’ ability to solve the puzzles and clues. The Challenge is meant to be completed during daytime hours, since participants are required to visit businesses and do some hiking.

“When you register online, you will receive your first clue. From there? The adventure begins!” Vanderwarker said.

The Challenge is self-guided. When you solve one clue, you’ll go to your next destination and receive another clue.

“The nice thing about this is that if you only have a few hours to start it one day, you can, and then return whenever you’d like during the summer to pick it back up. We estimate that the Adult Challenge will take about one to two days to complete and the Youth Challenge will take about four hours. But that depends on whether or not you can crack the codes,” Vanderwarker said. 

When participants arrive at certain places, they may need to follow a map or solve a puzzle or riddle; and at many of the locations, they will be required to give a “code word.”

“What is super exciting is that our partners are really committed to this. So walk into a business and give the wrong code word, and they’ll act like they have no idea what you’re talking about. Give them the right one, and you’ll get your next clue. When you finish the Challenge, you are entered into a drawing to win some prizes, including cash. But I think for most people, the fun of solving it and the experience with their friends and family might be the best prize,” Vanderwarker said.

It took the couple about eight months to organize and set up the Challenge. 

“We love to come up with creative fun things for the kids to do, and during Covid, that was especially important,” Vanderwarker said. “Between us, we have four kids currently aged 18, 14, 13, and 12 and a 15-year-old niece who is practically one of our own. So being in the house with no school and no internet (because we didn’t have any internet providers offering internet at our home until last week) during that time really prompted us to get our brains into a creative overdrive.”

Vanderwarker, who previously worked in the health administration field and had done a full historic renovation on a hotel to convert it into an assisted living facility, loves and appreciates history.

“So while we were spending so much time at home, we became curious about the history of our property. We learned from Maggie Frederickson at the Ischua Valley Historical Society that our property was once a part of a large farm owned by an important and prominent man in Franklinville,” Vanderwarker said. 

“She dropped off this huge packet of historical information on this gentleman, and I was hooked. So we started looking at more and more history in our area, and realized that there are some really exciting, interesting and important historical people and events in and around Franklinville, and many people probably don’t even know it!”

Photos provided
Shaun Thomson and Kristen Vanderwarker.

The couple moved into Franklinville three years ago, and enjoys the old-fashioned hometown community feel there. 

“People wave at each other, they are friendly and they help each other out. In our fast paced world it was so refreshing to move here and become a part of it. Franklinville is a neighboring town to Ellicottville, and people are very accustomed to going to Ellicottville for vacation, a weekend or date night. But just 20 minutes away sits another town that has some outstanding existing establishments and new people here excited and willing to breathe life into the downtown area,” Vanderwarker explained.

“But people don’t think of Franklinville as a destination. We, and many of us here in the Village, want to change that! We want to retain that rural, hometown feel, but we want to help highlight the wonderful things happening here as well.”

The couple described the purpose behind the Challenge as being threefold- it introduces people to Franklinville, its people and its businesses; it highlights interesting and important history in the area; and it gets people to be creative.

“We are hoping to create an event where people can have a great time and make memories,” Vanderwarker added. “But also, we want people to become curious. Curious about ways to think outside of the box in their lives, curious about the history of their own town or property. Our house is fairly new construction, it is not a historic structure. But like anyone, even if you live in a development, your property was something different before you built on it or moved in. We want people to think about that. To honor their towns and their history and their roots in a different way than maybe they have before.”

Sign up for the Challenge by visiting www.enchantedmountainchallenge.com, and may your creative juices get flowing!

Thomson and Vanderwarker are also opening up a new storefront in Franklinville for yet another new venture of theirs- Sugar Goat Bakery and Grazing Co. Be sure to read the separate story about this specialty bakery and grazing spot that will be opening up this June. 

Thomson and Vanderwarker have thrown themselves into making their hobbies and passions viable businesses. 

Thomson owns two companies in the outdoor sporting industry; one is called Antler Ice, which is a frozen deer attractant for hunting, and the other is Bone Cold Media, which films and produces a hunting television show called Bone Cold TV.

Vanderwarker had previously owned two NYS Dept of Health licensed Assisted Living facilities in Cambridge, New York, and had started her own company consulting in the field of senior living when she was 23. She sold her interest in the companies to her business partner this past December, and has thrown herself into the Enchanted Mountain Challenge, the Sugar Goat Bakery and Grazing Co., and their hobby farm- Proper Farms- where they take care of silkie and polish chickens, peacocks, and her favorite Nigerian Dwarf goats.

“Honestly though, we mostly just love being at home. Our property is a little slice of rural heaven, and we just love to be there with the kids, dogs, farm animals and our other family members at any chance we get.”

To learn more about this power couple and all they have to offer the community, visit properfarmsny.com.

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