FRIENDLY FINANCIALS: After multiple rejections, First Flight Adventure Park was ultimately financed through family, friends, and the Albemarle Commission's Revolving Loan Fund.


High above the marsh grass by the ocean in Nags Head, each year thousands of adventure-seekers navigate an array of cables, ropes and zip lines at a new obstacle course creatively constructed and financed through the business owners' version of the friends and family plan.

First Flight Adventure Park is an aerial adventure structure with easy, intermediate and advanced courses that, at its peak, is 60 feet high. Climbers wear safety harnesses while balancing and muscling through maritime-themed routes with difficulty levels tagged categories 1 through 5. These can include zip lines, elevated obstacle courses, ropes courses and more.

Owners Abby and Brad Carey, who have been married nine years and met at a rock climbing class at East Carolina University, started talking about the idea for a park in 2012. They knew Brad's work with Challenge Design Innovations, a company headquartered in Newland, N.C., that designs, builds and inspects challenge courses and climbing walls, would be helpful.

They also knew they were facing a huge expense.

"We started getting investors in 2013 and 2014, and I think we had about 20 investors to start," Abby Carey says of the couples' friends who donated money. "We basically just asked all our friends and said if it failed, we'd just go around building decks on houses."

This was after the couple had 10 rejection letters from banks because they had no collateral. They turned to Strategic Adventures in Denver, a company that specializes in writing business plans for adventure-based businesses, which they showed to their friends and to the SBTDC.

"It helped get the investors we needed. Then the SBTDC looked it over and said it was the best business plan," Carey says. "We thought it could work; we knew it could work; but we didn't know how to come up with the numbers."

Their friends collectively donated $410,000 of the needed $460,000. The other $50,000 is a loan from the Albemarle Commission's Revolving Loan Fund at a doable, low interest rate.

First Flight has a 15-year lease on the land through Dare County. Construction was done through Brad's company connection. "If someone else were to build the same course, it would cost almost double," Carey says. "We had to get all the materials, and some of it you have to order months ahead. Like harnesses and lanyards, some have to be shipped from overseas. So there's all kinds of logistics. Once we got the approval to build, we had literally eight weeks until Memorial Day...

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