Introducing LandApart, Denver/Portland-Based "Airbnb of Nature"

The topic of short-term rentals is a controversial one in Denver right now, given new rules just approved by the city council that restrict owners to operating an STR out of their primary residence only.

But the field is infinitely more wide open when it comes to the sort of short-term rentals offered by LandApart, a company split between Denver and Portland, Oregon, that's a featured attraction at TedxMileHigh, an event taking place on Saturday, June 25, at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. That's because its STRs are in the great outdoors — rentals of campsites, event spaces, farms, remote-adventure sites and even treehouses on private land.

LandApart CEO Ven Gist describes the concept as "the Airbnb of nature."

The concept isn't the first of its kind, Gist acknowledges. "There's one in Australia called Youcamp that's been successful, and the movement is kind of happening around the world. But we were the first ones to do it the way we're doing it in America.

"We're trying to be pretty inclusive," he continues. "We want to work with all kinds of landowners across the country — owners who can make available land from thousands of acres to twenty acres. Just all kinds of outdoor spaces for camping and events, and in general, we're trying to keep it wild. There are other companies that are doing this for kind of more fancy styles, more exclusive kinds of deals. But we're trying to build something that lives alongside public lands, where we can focus on the conservation side and rehabilitating some of these lands, as well as reforesting and those kinds of things."

The operation is largely headquartered in Portland, but the tech team is located in Denver. Says Gist: "We launched a version of the site last year to list and book land. Then, last season, we were in a private beta session as we worked through the logistics of insurance and all those different things. But this season, we're open to the public, and we're adding new listings every day. Right now, there's probably 100 campsites or so and probably twenty different lands in Oregon, Washington, Alaska, British Columbia, Wyoming and Colorado. There's even a few thousand acres in Texas that will be popping up in a couple of weeks.

"A lot of landowners are interested, and we've been doing things to help them create an accessible outdoor experience — help them with what we call 'recreation-experience design,' or RX for short. We're calling them one-on-one most of the time, going out and seeing them, and working on building up the supply, so we can get as many landowners as possible within the different geographies, so people can have options. And we're focusing on proximity of land to urban areas so people can get off work at five o'clock and actually get to their destination by sundown.

"We want to make it accessible and make sure it's a place that's not crowded — where people can have true quality time in nature, as opposed to how the experience would go on public land. We're not going to cram twenty or thirty different campsites together, but space them out, to protect the experience."

How much does all of this cost? The prices vary by the size of the land. "You can literally book a 1,000-acre ranch conducive to weddings or corporate retreats that go up to a couple grand or so, or just one campsite. And the campsites go for probably an average of $35. For that, you'll have access to the rest of the land — in most cases around 100 acres. We're really trying to work on larger spaces so people will have the opportunity to explore around."

The LandApart presentation at TedxMileHigh on Saturday will go well beyond a PowerPoint presentation. "Since we're so experientially motivated, they asked us to create a little experience," Gist says. "So they gave us the entire Sculpture Park [near the Denver Center for the Performing Arts complex], which we're calling Camp Mile High. It'll be a big, outdoor rest-and-relax zone that's free and open to the public. It'll be like this little camp in the middle of downtown, where we'll be making some iced coffee and snacks and playing games and giving away some stuff, like custom hammocks by Topo Designs, which is also in Denver. It's going to be super-fun."

Gist hopes the camp will "help us get the word out that this is a thing landowners can do, and folks can do if they're looking for a truly unique, secluded outdoor experience, where there's no one else around except for you and yours — as it should be."

Click for more details about TedxMileHigh on the 25th and LandApart.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts