Elise Hughes Berheim enjoys her job so much she sometimes forgets she’s working.
The 26-year-old is making a career out of her love of the environment as an outdoor tour guide.
“[Nature] is a deep passion for me,” Berheim said. “I got that from my grandpa, who was an organic farmer before it was cool. We also would hike together a lot.”
The South Dakota transplant has a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries as well as a master’s in wildlife sciences from South Dakota State University.
“What I kind of got from my education is that people have a pretty big disconnect with the environment,” she said. “What I am really passionate about is connecting people to the environment. That’s kind of what of led me to this work.”
Berheim offers walkabout tours at Garden of the Gods through Airbnb Experiences.
She spoke with the Business Journal this week about her love of the environment, life as a tour guide and trying to start a business.
Why move to Colorado Springs?
I moved to the Springs last December. I actually was born here, and I’ve just always loved Colorado. I would visit here often because my family was here. It just seems like a place for possibilities that I didn’t think I would have in South Dakota — and a place that is very open to environment-type ideas. It’s also just so beautiful in all of Colorado. I can’t even handle it. I went to Maroon Bells the other day and was like, ‘This exists!’
How does Airbnb Experiences work?
Airbnb Experiences has been around for about a year and that’s [globally]. Basically, when you get to certain cities… you can book experiences. It’s kind of creating this really unique dynamic because people can actually get paid to do what they love and what they are really passionate about by giving people an experience. That can be anything from calligraphy to what I do, which is a hiking tour. It’s a really cool opportunity. They have it set up so it’s your own business and you’re a contractor.
So it is my own business but I can tell you I wouldn’t be very successful without Airbnb. I create the experience and say, ‘This is what it’s going to be like. This is how I am going to interact with my customers.’ [Airbnb] approves or disapproves it. I was actually one of the first ones to be approved. I was lucky and heard about it early on. I was able to get on the bandwagon pretty quick and just started doing it. They handle the advertisement. It’s really a great way for me to start up a business because they are able to give me the platform I need to set up for people to come on a tour. They do take a percentage for that. Because I don’t want to just be with Airbnb and I want this to be my own thing and more working with the community, I advertise on Visit COS’s website. I also just do a lot of networking.
Talk about the Garden of the Gods walkabout.
It’s a 3-mile hike at Garden of the Gods, and I provide drinks. Right now, it’s starting to get colder so I’ve been providing hot chocolate and coffee or tea. If people have family coming to visit, it really can be a great way to look at the park. A lot of people just go through the central garden area, which is no doubt amazing, but we go down to the Siamese Twins [Trail] and come up through some of the foothills at the park. We talk about birds and plants.
It’s kind of fun because vegetation isn’t always super interesting to people but then when they start to learn about it, they become connected to it. We talk about geology and the history of the park. In the summers, I start the tours pretty early — like 5:30 a.m. and that was actually being pretty consistently booked. I think it’s partly because the early morning sun hitting these red rocks is just gorgeous. Plus, you will see more wildlife that early and you beat the heat and the crowds.
What was a challenge you faced starting the tours?
One of the things I really cared about doing and was a little difficult was making sure that the park and I weren’t at odds. Something I really cared about was building a relationship with the visitors center, so it wasn’t like I was just making money off the park. I wanted it to be approved by the visitors center. I had one of the visitors center’s staff members come on my tour. It ended up being a really, really great communication. I actually give a percentage back to the visitors center as a donation. I also am doing some free tours for them as well as presentations. I really want to have that open communication with them.
Talk about starting your own business.
I actually created my own business called Environmental Experiences LLC. It’s very much in startup. Airbnb really works wonderfully with tourism but I also want to be really involved with the local community. I really want to work with home-schooled kids and the public schools and not just working at Garden of the Gods either. There are so many beautiful places that Colorado Springs has to offer. I would love to have other areas where we could go and just get kids immersed in the environment. I am a very visual and hands-on learner so in school, books were never my thing. When you can run around on rocks and actually get in the environment, I think that’s really cool and a good way to get kids connected to nature.
Why connect kids with the environment?
I think it’s really easy … but we are missing it and not really teaching kids about the environment. With kids, anxiety and depression are becoming more common and I think, ‘If you are out in the environment, looking at the beautiful rock formations at Garden of the Gods, how do you get depressed?’ I think it’s so easy when we are so disconnected from the environment to get wrapped up in everything. If we all got out in the environment more, I think it lets your brain relax and reminds you there is something bigger than you. It also just gives kids the chance to run around. They have all that energy for a reason.
What phase is Environmental Experiences in?
Right now, I got my LLC. It’s Environmental Experiences LLC. I have my [Employer Identification Number] number. I’m working to get my own waivers as well as insurance. Right now, the Airbnb part is successful, but the cost of it is $50. If I wanted to do that for kids in the community, $50 per kid isn’t really reasonable. But I’m still in the very beginning process with everything.
Have you sought help?
I’m actually meeting with the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center today for the first time. I am wanting help to develop a general business plan. I have my visions and dream but [I need assistance] turning that into [a workable plan]. ‘How is it all going to work? What’s my game plan?’ That’s what I’m hoping the center can help me figure out and get started.
Any advice for other young professionals?
The networking community here is awesome — 1 Million Cups, on Wednesday mornings, at 9 a.m. at The Carter Payne [320 S. Weber St.], that one is so amazing. I go every time. The people are so amazing and supportive. There is just so much exciting energy and inspiring energy here. I would say really get involved. Colorado Springs is amazing for entrepreneurs as far as I’ve been able to see from my experience so far. Also, that I think the biggest thing that gets in people’s way sometimes is themselves. I think there is always a point where you feel overwhelmed and a lot of people quit then. But, I believe through communication and networking with the community, it will help you because everyone has been at that point. Sometimes you just need a little advice or guidance.