Turning a Passion into a Successful Family Business
Like many school-aged girls, Jane Atkinson’s daughter, Robin, wanted a horse. Unfortunately, due to allergies and other concerns, Atkinson said no. And like many children that age, Robin was also very persistent. So Atkinson suggested an animal better suited to their Arctic climate of Fairbanks, Alaska – a reindeer.
"When Robin sets her mind on a goal, she does everything to achieve it," says Atkinson. "For two years, her whole focus was reindeer research – all of her science fair projects, she joined 4-H and she interviewed people."
Robin's dedication to learning about reindeer also became a family affair. Atkinson says she became the leader for their 4-H club, Arctic Herders.
"4-H was a great venue for Robin to share the information she was learning about reindeer," explains Atkinson. "She also gained confidence and experience in public speaking."
Fueled by her passion to own a pet reindeer, and relying on her honed-in public speaking skills, Robin set out to raise the money necessary to purchase the animal.
"Robin and her sister, Anya, started Murphy Dough Cookie Co., and began making and selling cookie dough to members of the community," says Atkinson. "In fact, we still use her recipe today."
After two years of research and fundraising, Robin had raised the money.
"The original investment was $2,000, but reindeer are herd animals, so you have to get two," Atkinson says. "Thankfully, Robin's Dad agreed to fund the second."
In October 2007, Ruby and Moon joined the family.
Since then, the herd has grown to eight. Atkinson says reindeer are gentle by nature and are fun, curious animals. She also adds that each one has a very distinct personality.
"Olive was initially very shy," says Atkinson. "She quickly overcame her shyness with grace and a new boldness."
"You could tell there was something different about Rufus from the moment he was born," she says. "Rufus turned out to be our kissing reindeer!"
Atkinson's passion, love and care for the reindeer presented a unique Agritourism opportunity.
"I love walking with the reindeer every day and enjoying what they discover out in the forest and their interactions with each other," Atkinson explains. "Friends would ask to join us on our daily walks, and we realized we had a great educational and business opportunity at hand."
"There's a lot of mystical hype about reindeer for sure," says Atkinson. "People are fascinated and delighted to be around these animals."
It sure appears so. According to the website TripAdvisor, Running Reindeer Ranch is listed as number two on the "Things to do in Fairbanks" list. The tour also holds a five star rating from over 450 reviewers. In fact, for the past five years, Running Reindeer Ranch has received the coveted Certificate of Excellence award from TripAdvisor for constantly earning great reviews from visitors.
"A lot of our guests tell us they are just amazed at the experience," says Atkinson. "Some folks thought the tour would be more like a petting zoo, and it is so much more. People are enraptured by the animals."
Atkinson says visitors should expect a very educational experience during their 2.5 hour tour. She says she covers the full natural history of reindeer and explains how they adapted to living in the Arctic.
Visitors spend an hour and a half out in the forest walking a loop with the reindeer and then return to her home for homemade cookies and cocoa or lemonade – season depending.
The cookies, Atkinson notes, are made using the same recipe Robin and her sister used when she raised money for her first reindeer.
"Our most popular cookie, 'The Works,' combines oatmeal, chocolate chip and coconut," says Atkinson. "It's been a family favorite for years and our guests also agree."
Opening her home and operating Running Reindeer Ranch has allowed Atkinson the opportunity to share her passion and educate others about these fascinating animals. It also provides a way for Atkinson and her family to meet people from all over the world, while remaining in her native state.
"I live in an incredible birch forest," Atkinson says. "Having the reindeer has completely made a new appreciation for living in Alaska."
For more information about Running Reindeer Ranch, or to schedule a tour, please visit their website at www.runningreindeer.com, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 907-455-4998.
Running Reindeer Ranch Cookies
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup butter (use only butter, no margarine or shortening)
Mix together well
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla (just the real stuff, no imitation flavor)
- 1 cup of flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 5 cups oatmeal (whole rolled oats, not instant oats)
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips (Ghirardelli 60% cocoa chips is suggested)
- 1 or 1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut (If you use sweetened coconut reduce sugar.)
Optional: 1 cup walnuts
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until done