Exploring Aurora's Natural Beauty
If you’ve been to Aurora in the last decade, you’ll likely recognize the friendly face and witty sense of humor of Matt Stevenson. Matt has been a part of the Inns of Aurora team since 2009, managing the Fargo Bar & Grill. Now, Matt will be spending his days blazing trails, fishing, hosting archery lessons, and leading wilderness identification treks as our Outdoorsman, fulfilling his long-time dream of running an outdoor adventure.
We spoke with Matt about his very early love of the outdoors and how he developed the skills for this exciting new opportunity.
What was your earliest memory of being outdoors?
I remember being out on patrol with my dad on Otisco Lake, where I grew up, three lakes and 35 miles east of Aurora. He was a Sheriff. I was only three or four at the time. My dad also patrolled in the winter on snowmobile, but my mom wouldn’t let me go out with him. She said it was too dangerous.
What was your first solo adventure?
I started fishing on my own when I was four. Our house was close to the lake, but my grandparents had a cottage right on the lake. In the summer I’d walk over to their house the moment I woke up. I remember just sitting on the dock with my Snoopy pole most of day.
What else did you do?
When I wasn’t on the water, I was exploring the nearby forest with my brothers Eric and Kirk. We called our time in the woods “trailblazing.” We built forts out fallen trees and climbed waterfalls. We caught crawfish, made campfires, and cooked them up. Once, we dug behind a waterfall and created a cave fort.
Is it fair to say you practically lived outdoors?
Yes, we were rarely indoors. My parents bought a big bell and hung it from a nearby telephone pole. You could hear that bell from miles away. My mom or dad would ring it about 15 minutes before lunch or dinner and we’d start making our way toward home. I was a woodsman from an early age.
How do you think you learned about surviving in the wilderness?
My dad was always teaching my brothers and me techniques and observation skills. He helped us understand the ways of nature. He taught me how to hunt small game when I was small myself, and, when I was old enough, I graduated to hunting turkey and eventually deer.
Would you tell me more about your adventures with your brothers?
I was the middle brother of three and the one who often did the rescuing. Once, my older brother Eric got stuck while scaling a frozen waterfall. I had to work with my younger brother Kirk to get him free. Another time, Kirk climbed so high into a tree that he got stuck. I had to run home and get my mom for that one! Then there was the time both my brothers fell through the ice on the lake. I ran to shore, grabbed a branch, got down on the ice, and pulled them out with the branch.
When did you leave Otisco Lake?
I moved to Florida in 1996 with two of my childhood friends, Laura and Dawn. When they asked me to come along, I said why not! They were both back in New York in less than five years, but I stayed in Florida until 2009.
When I left Otisco I had only $1,500, a few clothes in a bag, two books, a sleeping bag, a pillow, and a fishing pole. I used all the money I had for the security deposit plus first and last month’s rent on a place in Siesta Key. I walked down the street and saw a help wanted sign in a window at a place called Daiquiri Deck. I got a job washing dishes and within a year and half was managing the bar.
How did you end up back in this area?
In 2009, I drove back to Otisco Lake, dropped everything into storage, and set off for Alaska. I camped on the way, and while in Alaska, I lived off the land with just a few accompaniments. I packed some Mountain Dew and a bunch of Ramen noodles to mix with the small game I hoped to take. I had my fishing pole, a shotgun, and my camping gear. I was out in the wild for a month.
Where does Aurora come into the story?
When I got back to Otisco Lake from Alaska, I saw an advertisement for a bartending position at the Fargo Bar & Grill. I was hired and before long found myself, once again, managing the bar. I commuted for a year before finally making the move.
What made you decide to leave your hometown and make Aurora home?
I love being in Aurora. Back in the day when I was commuting from Otisco Lake, I would often come in early for my shift so I could drop a line in the water or read a book in the meadows. There was and still is something magical about this place.
I moved to Aurora in 2010, bought my lifetime hunting and fishing license, and managed the Fargo Bar & Grill for 10 years. During that time, I continued to commune with the land and get to know the water, fields, and forests in the area. I dreamed of sharing my love of nature, fishing, and hunting with others.
Dreamed? Past tense?
In the fall of 2019, I made a proposal to join the programming team and create a bunch of outdoor activities to offer guests. I’m excited that this summer I’ll be doing just that: teaching guest how to fish, how to identify plants, trees, and animal tracks, survive in the outdoors, and shoot a bow.
What are you most looking forward to?
Well, that’s hard to say, but there is nothing quite so special as seeing someone catch their first fish. The look on their face is priceless.
Where can we find you?
Individuals, couples, and small groups can book private lessons and excursions with me by contacting our reservations team at 315.364.8888. You may also occasionally find me helping my friends out at the Fargo. We all pitch in where we are needed!