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Susquehanna Life

Land-Use: The Evolving Utility of Your Backyard

By Sarah Kopac

With the success of short-term rentals through models such as Airbnb and VRBO, a new and growing business model allows land owners to profit from their property by expanding the way they think about utilization of their acreage.

Tentrr, an Internet-based company, is at the forefront of this new concept. It connects owners of large, picturesque, private land parcels with adventurers who seek to explore otherwise off-limit locations.

According to Brian Polnasek, Tentrr area team leader for the Eastern Pennsylvania region, this land owner/camper relationship is filling a niche for those seeking a more private experience with nature than is possible at a public campsite. When you consider that 30 percent of Central Pennsylvania households have taken an overnight camping trip in the past 12 months, the potential impact is huge.

“By partnering our campers with private land owners, we can provide them access to unique, one-of-a-kind areas of seclusion that typically they would never be able to step foot on, allowing them the freedom to embrace the wilderness on their own terms,” explains Polnasek.

David George, a seasoned Tentrr user, agrees. “I’ve used the service nearly a dozen times over the last three years. It has expanded my camping choices exponentially and given me an opportunity to go places that I wouldn’t otherwise been able to go.”

Basic model

Tentrr requires land owners, or Camp Keepers as they’re called, to own at least 10 acres of property to be considered for partnership: but there are exceptions in some cases. Generally, most sites have 15 to 200+ acres, ensuring that guests have an intimate experience with nature.  Tentrr sets high expectations for properties listed on their site.

For example, approved properties must have an access point on which to install a solid wooden platform in a flat area, without altering the landscape. Ultimately, the objective is to provide an awe-inspiring experience without disturbing nature.

“Our goal is to promote a Zero Trace camping experience, so the idea of bulldozing a path through the forest to the perfect spot is absolutely out of the question,” Polnasek explains. “We have teams going out every day, meeting with potential Camp Keepers, touring their properties, and cultivating just the right sites to join our network.”

The other side of it

For Camp Keepers, the partnership with Tentrr helps them get the most out of their land without altering its natural beauty. Tentrr provides the equipment, booking platform and advertising necessary to promote their leasable space. For Camp Keeper Hall Symth, this model is a win-win.

“I own large pieces of property that were otherwise not being utilized,” Symth explained. “I wanted to share the beauty of it with others and make my investment pay for itself.”

In return, Camp Keepers are encouraged to take ownership of their sites and share their unique assets with guests. This often means providing amenities, such as canoes, kayaks and fishing poles; taking visitors on property tours or horseback riding trails; providing wellness instruction; and sharing fresh produce, eggs and local experiences. The opportunity to exploit their own unique offerings is endless. And this effort is not lost on Tentrr participants.

“I feel like I’m a guest on each property,” shares George. “The site is ready for your arrival and I love having the opportunity to experience unique aspects of the different locations. In fact, I [camped] in a wild apple orchard where the owner took us in a six-person ATV all over the 400 acres, giving us a tour and [sharing] the history of the land.”

The results are in

This new business model already has proven successful for land owners. In the 2017 camping season, Camp Keepers earned an average of $7,000, just for the satisfying experience inherent in sharing their land and resources.

“We want to empower [property owners] to be able to earn money off what they already have, without ever having to [alter or] leave their beautiful properties,” says Polnasek.

Symth agrees. “It is much less work than running an Airbnb and a similar payback for the smaller effort.”

Although the number of Tentrr sites is limited in Pennsylvania, Polnasek is excited to continue expansion into the state, with community involvement and support.

“It is very important for us to get involved with the local communities of our sites,” adds Polnasek. “We do so by partnering with groups and organizations that share our goals to promote the education and preservation of nature and wildlife.”

Pennsylvania model

Currently, Tentrr’s Stroudsburg, PA, hub covers all of Eastern Pennsylvania, as well as parts of New York and New Jersey.

“We have visited dozens of stunning properties and have already green-lit builds on numerous sites,” Polnasek says. “Pennsylvania is packed full of beautiful wilderness and we continue to expand our selection of sites each day.”

For land owners and campers alike, this new way to share and explore a beautiful and secluded location is appealing on many levels, including breathing new life into Pennsylvania’s camping industry. The idea of renting outdoor space on private property appeals to an entirely new generation of would-be campers, who can explore and appreciate the outdoors in a way they haven’t before. In turn, land owners have a new way to reap the rewards of their investment by sharing it with people who can appreciate it in its existing, natural state.

Sarah Kopac is a freelance writer and graphic designer based in State College.

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