Seeking A Higher Campground

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Jim and Courtney Trent with Shiner and Canyon

The Trents are up for a challenge. “We were the quintessential power couple,” says Courtney. “Not a power couple – that’s so cliché,” she corrects herself. “But definitely corporate.” When they met in Dallas in 2006, she was a senior manager in banking and insurance, while Jim was a Silicon Valley executive. “She was constantly being called to New York,” he says, “while I was pulled to the West Coast.” They married in 2009 without slowing down. In 2012, Jim moved to California, while Courtney stayed behind in Dallas to see the two youngest of their five children through high school.

By all accounts they were ‘successful’, at the pinnacle of their careers, when they paused to discuss their future. “It was my birthday,” says Courtney. “October 27, 2015. I told Jim that all I wanted was for him to take a half day off work to go with me on a short hike. His boss was furious that his phone was off; they were working on a merger, and his time was valuable.” Both Jim and Courtney are active, outdoor types who share a love of bicycling, scuba diving, snowboarding, and water skiing. Jim is a private pilot as well, adding one more layer to their love of adventure. Their hike was portentous; as they trekked, they discussed their dreams, rehashing an idea they had discussed years before. “We had talked off and on about opening a family-oriented entertainment center,” says Jim. “It was all about our kids,” adds Courtney. “They were teenagers and had ‘nothing to do’. We thought the right kind of entertainment facility would bring kids and parents together.” By the time they finished their walk, Jim and Courtney had made a pact to quit their jobs, to follow their dreams. “We shook on it,” she grins. “We were serious.” By December 18th of that same year, they had packed and were leaving California.

Their journey to central Texas was not a direct one. They stopped first at a cabin they had in Tahoe to enjoy one last snowboarding trip with their children, and made plans to return to Texas. They had a couple of rental houses in Flower Mound, so after a brief rest, they once again packed up their dogs and headed for the DFW area. “The community officials didn’t want to work with us,” says Jim. “They weren’t prepared to think outside the big box stores – couldn’t see the vision we had. So we kept looking.”

A friend who owned a few RV camp parks suggested they explore his business model. A travel-centric business appealed to the Trents on many levels. “We wanted to share our new found ‘stress-less’ lifestyle,” Courtney tells me. “We think of Mystic Quarry as a getaway for Texas city dwellers. Camping is all about gathering the family together and getting away from the pressure of the city and weekday jobs. The campground idea harkens back to our childhood memories of camping and backpacking – being outdoors.” “We also like to meet new people and be around people that are happy. The campground is a perfect match,” Jim adds.

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After attending a wedding in Ft. Davis and seeing El Cosmico, the inspiration was complete and they ran with it. Their youngest two children, both 21 at the time, were living in San Marcos. Wanting to be nearer to them, Jim and Courtney drove down and began to look for property. “We passed this place up several times,” they say. “It was run down. We knew it would be a lot of work to make it a place we were proud to own and operate. It was called ‘Riverside Resort’ and wasn’t even on the river. We just didn’t see it at first.”

Slowly, though, Riverside grew on the Trents. It was convenient to all of central Texas’ favorite hotspots, from Austin and San Antonio, to Wimberley, Fredericksburg, Boerne, and Gruene. It’s just up the hill from the ‘Horseshoe’ on the Guadalupe, less than a mile from Whitewater Amphitheater. “And there’s an advantage to not being right on the river,” says Jim. “It doesn’t flood.” One year to the day after making their pact, they signed the papers and Mystic Quarry was born. They moved onto the property with their dogs, Shiner and Canyon, and began working in earnest.

“I wish we could show you the Gantt wall,” laughs Courtney. “We had a Gantt chart drawn all over the longest wall in the original structure. We used Post-Its so that we could move things forward to look like we were always on time. The wall came down yesterday to make way for the rec room…” The rec room is taking shape before my eyes; a plumber drops by, a painter varnishes a dozen tables and chairs, while outside three men are laying cables into a ditch. Everybody seems to be at ease while the bosses walk through, bantering, complimenting the work. Adjoining the rec room is a spacious kitchen: one more amenity to be made available to guests who want to entertain while on vacation. Just around the corner is a laundry. “This is where the Rakowitz family lived during the winter while they built Riverside. The kids are still around; we found them and they came out and told us stories about this place.”

“We initially thought we would just refurbish what was here,” remembers Jim, while Courtney wrinkles her nose, then points to nine pet-friendly cottages. “These were the only ones that stayed. We tried to provide easy access for seniors.” Instead, the couple has opted for 15 new tiny houses, each of which boasts modern décor, a king or queen bed, a loft with two single beds, and full kitchen, living, and bath rooms. Some also include bunk beds and sleeper sofas. The tiny houses feature furniture from Austin’s Endever, Joybird, and some pieces which were designed and built on site. And each house’s pièce de résistance: a spacious front porch. “We want people to bring a guitar, to sing around the fire at night. Travelers have great stories, and we provide a comfortable place to tell them.”

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The Trents have built Mystic Quarry to appeal to a wide variety of people, from artists and musicians to hunters and anglers, from couples on a romantic getaway to family reunions and corporate events, with a range of accommodations, private and common spaces, activities, and comforts. In a nod to the faster pace of the world outside the 21-acre property, the Trents have installed underground fiber optic cable that will boast 34 access points so their guests can stream shows or even work without a hitch. “Not to knock other businesses in the area, but we didn’t want another ‘log cabin resort’. That has been done. We want to attract a more sophisticated cliental, professionals, urban sorts. We’re new to the hospitality business, but we know what we like. Customer service is paramount,” Courtney assures me. “And we keep our ears open for ideas. Some of our best amenities were suggested by friends and guests.” For example, the dog wash, proposed by a visiting member of their marketing team, compliments a wealth of canine-oriented conveniences, including multiple fenced dog parks. Two of the cabins will even have a private fenced yard. “Our guests can just let their dogs out back if they don’t want to walk to the parks at night.”

The Trents share all this information within the first hour of our acquaintance, before we have even toured the grounds. There is so much to see and do within sight of the office that I’m not taking notes, but simply trying to wrap my mind around every detail: covered picnic tables around a bocce ball court with arbors at either end, in-ground propane fire pits, a pool with the sleek MQ logo in tile on the bottom, a raised deck perched atop two forty-foot shipping containers which are slated to become concession and retail space. Beyond the main courtyard three tipis on raised platforms are going up, with two more in the works. These will be wired and air-conditioned in time for the Grand Opening on May 20. Nestled among shade trees are 36 RV sites, six of them with adjacent tiny houses, and all with 50-amp electrical service. And for those who want to sleep closer to the Earth, there is a spacious primitive camping area with picnic tables, barbecue pits, and plenty of shade. They also have tent setups available for rent, complete with air mattresses and sleeping bags, and will show those who are new to camping how to pitch them. There are even hammocks and hammock sleepers for those who really want to get their lounge on. And because the Trents plan to live here year-round, they have plotted out a substantial organic garden area, and even plan to install beehives in the near future.

As if this weren’t enough, we take a drive through the woods, and they show me the hike and bike trail, wet weather creek (site of a soon-to-be pond) and finally, the eponymous limestone quarry. “There are no official records, but the material from this place was likely used to build [Canyon] Dam,” Jim tells me, stooping down to scratch Shiner’s ears. The excavation has left a conveniently flat meadow, with overlooking low bluffs. “This is our sunset spot,” says Courtney. “And probably a movie theater.” Sure enough, there is still an old movie screen on the edge of the field opposite the bluffs, and Jim points out an idea from a friend to station classic cars outfitted with comfortable interiors and speakers – premium seats for a drive-in style show.

In six short months, Mystic Quarry has come together in a robust testament to Jim and Courtney’s clarity of vision, planning, and dedication to detail. While my head spins from the scope of their project, I cannot help but notice that the Trents are relaxed, seemingly unconcerned by the imminence of the grand opening, the work left to be done, the presence of a stranger who has just taken up three hours of their time. They are justifiably proud of what they have built, and see it as a living thing, a work in progress, though one that feels solid, complete. They have been building connections with their neighbors down at Whitewater Amphitheater with whom they are planning collaborative packages. They foresee a daily shuttle to and from events in the area for those who want to cut loose or simply want to forego the hassles of parking. The garden, hives, hike and bike trail, pond, and theater are still being defined but on schedule. I for one will be checking in from time to time to see what’s next, to take a load off, maybe sing some songs around a campfire. A ‘higher campground’ indeed.

http://mysticquarry.com