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Northern Nevada businesses and organizations find traffic through van and RV travelers

A woman laughs as she feeds three of her alpacas from her hand. There is snow on the ground and on the alpacas’ fleece.
Ember Braun
KUNR Public Radio
Stacey Payne feeds a group of her alpacas small, brown pellets in Washoe Valley, Nev., on Feb. 6, 2024.

Some businesses and organizations in northern Nevada are offering unique accommodations and experiences through a service called Harvest Hosts.

Imagine a ranch with roaming alpacas. And then, off to the side, parked vans and RVs. It’s a sight you might not expect to see on a farm. But for Stacey Payne, this has become a part of her business.

At Olde LYFE Alpacas, people can stay overnight in trailers, vans, tents and more. She rents land on L. Davis Ranch in Washoe Valley, where her chickens, goats, llamas and alpacas live, surrounded by barns and large grazing areas.

Travelers stay overnight on her ranch in two different ways. Payne has a link on her website which allows people to book a parking or camping spot on the ranch. But she’s also signed up for services that do the booking process for her. She’s a host on several websites, including Harvest Hosts.

“I look at every single thing that could possibly draw people here. And people love that they get to have free ranging alpacas around them,” Payne said.

A mini potbelly pig stands in the snow and looks at the camera while alpacas roam in the background near a barn.
Ember Braun
KUNR Public Radio
The ranch mini potbelly pig looks at the camera while alpacas roam near one of the barns in Washoe Valley, Nev., on Feb. 6, 2024.

Payne signed up with these companies because she wants traffic for her agritourism business. In addition to renting out spaces, she also sells yarn and animals. She travels to New Mexico, Arizona, California and other states to shear animals as well.

But with Harvest Hosts, she doesn’t get any income from the booking itself. When travelers book the camping spot on Harvest Hosts, they’re encouraged to spend $30 on products or services from the host. For Payne, this means selling beanies, alpaca wool and felted soaps. People can also walk and feed the alpacas for a fee.

“It really comes down to a lot of different revenue streams. You’ve got to have guests coming. You got to have sales going on, of either animals or product, in order to combat downtimes, like right now, winter. Very few people are traveling this area in their RVs,” she said.

A wall lined with socks and awards is to the left. Shelves with various products, like soaps and toys, stand on the right.
Ember Braun
KUNR Public Radio
Inside of Payne’s gift shop hang socks, beanies, and various products in Washoe Valley, Nev., on Feb. 6, 2024.

Other farms around her use Airbnb, but she doesn’t have the means to do that, she said. By hosting campers on the property, she offers something new for the mainly retirees and families that come to visit.

“I think that there’s a huge draw to not staying in a Walmart parking lot. And not staying along the side of the road somewhere or not staying where there’s a bunch of people,” she said.

While hosts can sign up for free, RV users and other travelers pay a fee. Those who sign up with Harvest Hosts pay a $99 yearly membership.

Mary Dierker is one of those members. She and her husband, along with their dog, have used the service for three years.

“So say, we’re in between places and we just need a place where we can park and have some of the local feel of that area. It’s a helpful tool for when you’re traveling long distance,” she said.

Her favorite part is meeting new people on her travels, Dierker said.

“It’s not so much the location for me. It’s those random, wonderful conversations that when you travel, you get to have with another. And the likelihood of you ever seeing them again is slim, but they’re the most engaging,” she said.

Her favorite location is a whiskey distillery out in Wyoming. And as a retired small-business owner, she likes that people get exposed to these local businesses, she said.

“It’s encouraging travelers who so easily get on interstates and blow by unique small communities that have a lot to offer us,” Dierker said.

Many of the businesses and organizations that signed up with these types of companies saw the opportunity to attract more people.

One of them is Gold Hill Hotel, located right next to Virginia City. Tony and Jill Clough own the oldest hotel in Nevada. They’ve operated the business for three years. The weekends between May and October are their busiest, Tony Clough said.

“Going up into Virginia City is difficult from where we are here. Typically, the RV route would be taking the truck route, which runs around the other way. So if we weren’t a part of Harvest Hosts, that would be a whole group of folks we’d probably never see here at the Gold Hill,” Clough said.

Dining tables are set with utensils and tablecloths. Black and white photographs hang in frames on the dark walls of the restaurant.
Ember Braun
KUNR Public Radio
Inside the Crown Point Restaurant at the Gold Hill Hotel, dining tables are prepped as staff is preparing for Miner’s Dinner Night in Gold Hill, Nev., on Feb. 19, 2024.

But there’s many more choices than just hotels and ranches. Distilleries, breweries, golf courses, historical sites and even churches are among the locations listed.

One of those churches is the North Valleys Church of the Nazarene. Senior Pastor Pam Plaisted enjoys hearing about other people’s travels. Instead of the recommended $30 purchase, travelers have the chance to leave a donation with the church.

“I feel like it helps the church and gets our name out there. I don’t preach at them per se, but I give them the opportunity, obviously. And I always ask them, ‘Can I pray with you? Is there something I can pray for with you or for you,’ ” she said.

The church typically hosts a majority of female travelers, Plaisted said.

“And I’m like, ‘Aren’t you afraid? You know, you’re out there on your own.’ They’re like, ‘Well, you know, gotta be smart.’ It’s one of the reasons that women will come to our place in particular, is they feel that they’re safe here,” she said.

As for the members themselves, the majority are 55 or older and retired, said Ali Lindsey, senior business development manager for Harvest Hosts. Typically, summers are the busiest season.

“Those special occasions like the solar eclipse are always busier. I think it is beneficial in the way that it drives revenue to those small businesses,” Lindsey said.

KUNR’s Ember Braun is a student at the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Ember Braun is a student reporter for KUNR. She is studying journalism at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno with an emphasis in broadcasting and a minor in English literature.