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Montana startup becoming the Airbnb of outdoor recreation

LandTrust expands with significant investment from Kevin O'Leary and the Wilks Brothers
carl kimmell.jpg
Posted at 8:25 PM, Mar 28, 2023

This working cattle ranch just outside Roundup now has another stream of income thanks to LandTrust, a Montana-based startup company that’s like the Airbnb for outdoor recreation, connecting the public to private opportunities such as archery hunts.

"We’ve got all kinds of white tale mule deer, elk, upland games, prairie dogs, lots of bald eagles," said Carl Kimmel, owner of Kimmel Ranch.

It's Montana in all its glory.

The massive cattle ranch is about 25 miles north of Roundup. Kimmell is a third-generation owner, but the recent drought cut his herd from a peak of 700 cattle to nearly 130. So he's getting creative with his income streams.

Kimmell is one of several hundred property owners in Montana part of the new online platform, LandTrust. That means people are paying to play here, and they're coming from all across the U.S., including Pennsylvania, Idaho and Michigan.

"We launched in fall of 2019. Since then, we’ve expanded to 34-35 states, just over a million acres of land on the platform. Predominantly our density is going to be in Montana, Nebraska and Kansas," said Colton Dombroski, LandTrust head of customer and landowner success.

The platform has since expanded into five more states, thanks to a $6 million investment from Kevin O'Leary, known for his role on the TV show "Shark Tank", and the Wilks brothers, who are among the largest landowners in the country.

"They recognize the value we’re providing to a lot of generational operations throughout the country," Dombroski said.

O'Leary agrees.

“We believe the Wilks brothers' investment and contribution of their land holdings to the platform will allow LandTrust to scale in an accelerated manner,” he said recently.

It's a big win for landowners and hunter, along with a shot in the arm for rural communities.

"The folks who are coming out, they are eating at the cafe or going to the bar, the diner and helping drive that economy as a whole in those locations," Dombroski said.

It's not just hunters paying to visit places like Kimmel's ranch. Some come for birdwatching or stargazing on the 8,000 acres. It can even be a man cave for overnight stays, which is perfect for Blake Mannion of Bozeman, who's booked about 20 experiences on LandTrust.

"Pretty much deer and elk for the most part, some bear hunting from time to time, turkey hunting," he said.

Another time, it was a day pass for shed hunting.

"They are decorations. I’m not in charge of the decorations, but they get used. I think that one was 20, and you get access to 5,000 acres. Let's say that's yours for the day," he said.

For someone like Mannion, who moved to Bozeman from the Bronx, that access is priceless.

"I think anyone that does not have the benefit or luck in life that has family or friends who have property will understand the struggle of land access. LandTrust really is a pretty revolutionary way of gaining access to private ground," he said.