The history of Telluride Academy is as rich and vibrant as the100+ annual programs that we offer each year. The journey from our humble ‘backyard’ beginning to our now solid foundation and respected reputation are the result of 36 years of dedication and passion. It was the vision of our founder, Wendy Brooks and numerous other committed community members that has led to countless adventures and discoveries that take place amongst the beautiful and inspirational locations of the Telluride region.



Telluride Academy began in our Founding Director Wendy Brooks’ backyard in 1980 as a daycare option for working families. It was organized by Wendy’s 8 year old son, Dylan and his friends who all wanted to go to camp. The first week of camp, the newly formed group called themselves ‘Camp Telluride’. Their main goal was to get out of town, and so every day, the instructors (Wendy and her 12-year-old son, Demian) loaded the boys up in the back of the family pickup truck and journeyed to some nearby fun place for the day. Tuition was $10 a week. The program eventually outgrew Wendy’s back yard and ultimately the entire operation was taken over by the Telluride School District with Wendy retained as its Director. The Program continued to grow and evolve and over time offered a full time Ski-Academy, an interesting International baseball camp, performing arts programming and even at one point, adult programming.

THE 90s

In 1990, under the guidance of Telluride local’s Erik Fallenius and Steven Gluckstern, a board of directors was formed and the Academy became a Colorado 501(c)3 non-profit organization operating independently from the Telluride School District. The board of directors was instrumental in guiding the organization toward its mission and values; offering enriching, experiential programs for children and teens. Teaching youth to enjoy everything the great outdoors has to offer became the underlying focus of most Academy programs. Hiking, Mountain Biking, Rock Climbing, Kayaking were and still are activities that Academy students experience every day. Even those students that choose a more creative route; like learning how to be a DJ at our local public radio station or participating in a month long intensive theater program spend as much time outdoors as possible.

As the Organization continued to grow so did its operating expenses. Administrative and Instructor staffing grew. Vehicles, insurance and other operating needs continued to grow and our tuition along with it. The Academy was quickly becoming out of financial reach for many local working families. To address this, the Academy established a tuition assistance fund that offered financial aid to local families. Today approx. $140,000 is awarded annually to families in need. The fund is supported by the generosity of many Telluride local and second homeowners whose children are growing up in the Academy. It is also supported by local and regional grants and well as local business sponsorships.

In 1993, the Academy’s popular Mudd Butts Theater program went International with a trip to Czechoslovakia for a two-week interactive theater exchange with a small school in Nitra, Slovakia. Since its inception, “Mudd Butts International” has provided in-depth cultural exchange opportunities to hundreds of students. Programs have visited points across the globe including Costa Rica, Bahamas, Ireland, Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico, New Zealand, Bali, India, Viet Nam, Chile, Turkey and Ethiopia. MBI strives to immerse students in foreign cultures through home-stays and to create an interactive, bi-lingual theater production for each host village.

In 1996, board member Steven Gluckstern initiated a drive to create a board of trustees and to build an endowment that would stabilize the Academy well into the future. Seven founding trustees pledged $5,000 per year for five years each. The Academys endowment continues to be a strong financial force that is supported through the generosity of numerous Academy families.

THE 2000s

In the year 2000, the Academy offered 100 programs and hosted over 700 Students.  The challenges of the Organization were now focused on growth. Luckily the original program model of 12 students guided by 2 qualified Instructors allowed the organization to continue to grow without compromising each student’s experience.

In 2003, after 23 years of service to Telluride’s youth, Wendy Brooks resigned as executive director to become a part-time historian and trip leader. Wendy remains involved in the organization today assisting with fundraising and managing all of our Mudd Butts International programs. Doug Bartlett was hired on that same year and served as the Academy’s Executive Director for 18 months.

In 2004, the Academy broke the $1 million mark in revenues, hosted international trips to Viet Nam, Costa Rica and Bhutan and in 2005, the Academy broke enrollment records serving more than 800 local, regional and visiting children and celebrated more than 25 years in the Telluride Community. Emily Dressler served as the Academy’s Executive Director from 2005-2010.
In 2010, former board member and Academy local parent Elaine Demas took over the leadership role as the Academy’s Executive Director.

In 2011, the Academy purchased a small commercial condominium in the Cimarron Complex in the town of Telluride to function as its Administrative office. A capital campaign was launched that fall and was completed in December of 2012. Now and for the first time in the history of the Academy, we have a place to call our own. The monies we are saving on our annual rent expense can now be redirected to other areas of the operation and for tuition assistance for local families.

In 2017, Luke Brown took over the ED position after the departure of Elaine Demas. 

Upon the departure of beloved Program Director Ashley Smith, Sophie Fabrizio took over in the same role. 

The extraordinary creative team of Kim, Sally and Mike announced that 2019 will be the final year for Mudd Butts InternationaMudd Butt Mystery Theater. In 2019 MBI traveled to Morocco for its final performance! We are forever grateful for the lasting impact that this team and the MBI program have had on Telluride Academy and the many families who have participated in Mudd Butts over the years.

In 2021, due to the board and staff’s hard work and commitment and donors’ generosity, Telluride Academy acquired the Leopard Creek staff house. This pivotal achievement in an increasingly stressed housing market allowed Academy to offer a landing pad for new staff and provide stability in staffing and vehicle, trailer and gear storage on our property.


Our staff continues to evolve, with Kelly Sheedy changing course to work for another non-profit in town and Sonja Ames coming in as the new Communications & Enrollment Director role in 2021. Jason Merritt joined the team most recently in 2023 as the new Executive Director.“I am super excited and honored to have the opportunity to take a leadership position with Telluride Academy. It has been an institution in the Telluride community for over 40 years. Our family and countless others have relied upon the Academy for formative experiences connecting children with the outdoors. ” – Jason Merritt.

Today, the Academy consists of local, regional and visiting families who return year after year. The summer of 2023 marks Telluride Academy’s 43rd summer of adventures in the San Juans and beyond. We are incredibly proud of our long-standing history within the walls of this tiny box canyon and for the vision and hard work of those who chose to see beyond them.

Thank you for sharing your children with us and for your support.