It’s the clash of two very different eras—a guest ranch and the Internet—but one Montana family hopes it’s a pairing that can save their home after a long, expensive battle with the local government over zoning issues.
A few years ago, Sterling and SuzAnne Miller, who have owned the Dunrovin Ranch near Missoula since 2006, installed a webcam over an osprey nest to keep an eye on the birds. As word spread of the online camera, thousands of people began to seek out their website. In 2013, the site had 800,000 unique visitors. When the birds left though, SuzAnne got dozens of emails asking her to leave the camera on so people could watch life on the rest of the ranch.
Earlier this year, the Miller’s decided to capitalize on that interest and launched DaysAtDunrovin.com, a website that essentially turns the Dunrovin Ranch into a Web-based reality show. For a small fee (anywhere from $4 to $10 a month), users can watch a series of webcams and even chat with each other about what’s going on at the ranch. According to the Missoula Independent, in early July the site had 415 paying members and the number was only growing. Some subscribers even tune in just to watch the sunset over the mountains.
“To really be a full-fledged, quality site, I need about 6,000 subscribers,” SuzAnne told the Independent. “That should not be hard to do and by fall I need 2,000 to give me enough money just to continue.”
Storylines have already emerged on the “reality show,” including one about a horse trainer named Mackenzie and a horse that was traumatized by a previous owner and did not trust humans. Rather than put the animal down, Mackenzie has spent months trying to rehabilitate the animal—and it has all unfolded online.
The ranch itself has struggled in recent years after being engaged in a long legal battle with Missoula County over zoning issues. In July 2012, the county accused the ranch of building a garage without the proper permit and having a septic tank that did not meet regulations, among other things. The legal issues were resolved early this year, but they have reportedly had a lasting impact on the ranch’s finances.
The Miller’s hope that the Internet and their member-supported webcams can help them turn the page and survive.
“This is reality TV that’s real,” SuzAnne told the newspaper.