Howard County Times
Howard Magazine

After a decade in business, Terrapin Adventures has become a regional destination

After a career as a solar energy economist and then 25 years in the health care industry, Columbia resident Matt Baker never imagined that he would own and operate a ropes and zip line course.

He happened upon the industry about 15 years ago during a vacation to Costa Rica. He was immediately hooked.


“That’s when I got the idea for Terrapin Adventures,” he recalls of the team-building adventure business he founded 10 years ago. “I had been working on it a good four years — with a business plan, finding a location, doing lots of presentations, getting financing, and working on everything from the URL to developing the web site, marketing strategies and the concept.”

A decade later, Terrapin Adventures has become a regional destination for outdoor adventure-seekers, drawing more than 160,000 people for group bonding, personal growth or pure adrenaline.


"They have put us on the map,” says Erin Collier, director of operations for Historic Savage Mill, the retail and business complex where the business operates. “It’s hopping whenever Terrapin Adventures have groups here.”

The days start early at Terrapin Adventures. Around 5 a.m. you’ll find a group of four to five employees setting up ropes courses and zip lines throughout a two-acre wooded area adjacent to Savage Mill. It’s a liability to leave off-the-ground apparatuses unattended after hours, says Baker, 62.

“Sometimes I help out,” he says with a slight chuckle. “It’s not something I relish doing. It’s a pretty physical job.”

Unlike self-guided adventure courses, Terrapin Adventures relies on a guided model where a staff member is within 20 feet of customers at any given time.

“We can be out there at a blink of an eye because we’re so close,” says Operations Manager Brett Self. “That’s a little more comfortable for them. It’s a different feel.”

Self, who has been working there for the past two years, says he likes to see the growth in customers. He proudly recalls times he’s witnessed apprehensive customers break through their fears and become more confident.


“We get to interact with people on a cool platform,” says the former mountain climbing instructor. “It’s so gratifying for us as employees to get through their fears and work past that.”

Terrapin Adventures has seen a steady build in business. Its first year open, 7,000 customers came. Since then attendance has increased to around 15,000 people a year.


Customers come from mostly a 50-mile radius and range in age from 5 years old to 85. Of the groups that come to Terrapin Adventures, more than a third are repeat customers, Baker says.

Camerra Taliaferro, the director of operations at Sela Public Charter School in Washington, D.C., is one of them.

“It was a great experience,” says Taliaferro, who organized an outing for 45 of her coworkers in Augustafter attending the course four years ago for another job. “It was a great way to bond off site.”


“I was able to get to know the person and know how they felt about their outlook on nature and their comfortability,” says the Upper Marlboro resident.

Although the air-based adrenaline activities are much of the draw, Terrapin Adventures also offers experiences offsite throughout the region — from kayaking in Western Maryland to spelunking in West Virginia. In fact, about a quarter of their business is done away from their Savage Mill location and on the ground.


In addition to the outdoors course, Baker also has 1,500 square feet of space in Savage Mill’s New Weave building, where team-building activities include blindfolded participants holding their hands over open mouse traps to reinforce trust. In another, participants have to work together to cross an imaginary obstacle.

“I love what we do,” says Baker. “We use the power of play to help build relationships, whether that be between teachers, students, corporate groups, scouts or college kids. We put them in situations where they get to know each other, problem solve. And because we are doing it in a fun way, it’s pretty cool.”

Michael L. Dorsey, chief learning officer of the Maryland Department of Human Services, ranks Terrapin Adventures as one of the top 10 in the country when it comes to team-building opportunities.

“I have seen a number of facilities nationwide,” says Dorsey, who has 15 years of experience working with staffs from the public and private sector throughout the country. “Terrapin ranks up there.”

Dorsey says he was drawn to Baker’s business five years ago when he was implementing leadership development initiatives.


“I needed the participants to have an experience that truly challenged them to embrace their own vulnerabilities and face their fears,” he recalls.

Terrapin Adventures did precisely that. Dorsey and his staff of 30 have returned five years in a row as part of their nine-month leadership and development program.

“We come back because they do everything possible to customize the schedule for the day to meet our needs,” Dorsey says.

Taliaferro, and the other educators at her school, have noticed the lasting effects of attending Terrapin Adventures.

“Staff members are gelling more across various grades and cultures,” she says.

Howard County Times: Top stories

Howard County Times: Top stories


Daily highlights from Howard County's number one source for local news.

Beyond group bonding, Terrapin Adventures offers the benefit of getting customers out of the office and into the great outdoors.

“It’s kind of exhilarating,” Baker says. “Once you get over the thrill and adrenaline, you can see the beauty of the surroundings.”

Terrapin Adventures gives Howard County a “competitive advantage when it comes to outdoor adventure activities,” according to Amanda Hof, executive director for Visit Howard County. She writes in an email that "there is growing demand for outdoor recreation in natural environments.”

Savage Mill’s Collier adds that the business inspire the community “to become stewards of our natural surroundings here on the Little Patuxent River.


"They make us all want to be a little more adventurous.”