With fears of a coronavirus outbreak mounting and a highly contentious presidential election just around the corner, it’s not surprising that doomsday scenarios are beginning to abound.
So what’s a middle-class survivalist to do?
Sure, the truly well-heeled preppers can head off to the luxury communities designed to withstand the end of the world (like this one) or set up personal bunkers that can go for tens of thousands of dollars. But not everyone has the necessary cash to do so. And many of today’s cost-constrained preppers aren’t quite eager to form a local militia and stockpile canned goods in the middle of the woods in case things get really bad.
Enter Fortitude Ranch, a bare-bones survival community built to withstand a variety of disasters that’s priced just right for the working and middle class. Its first of two locations, in Colorado, has already sold out, spurred by the panic over the new coronavirus, now called COVID-19.
The ranch’s tagline says it all: Prepare for the Worst … Enjoy the Present.
“Interest is way up there,” says Fortitude Ranch CEO Drew Miller, a retired Air Force colonel and intelligence officer. He owns the ranch with two business partners, who prefer not to be named. “More and more people are discovering prepping isn’t silly. It’s a smart thing to be able to get out of the suburbs or the city if this virus disrupts law and order [and the food supply] and looting occurs.”
Those preparing for the end times can buy memberships for about $1,000 a person annually. In good times, members can vacation at its Colorado or West Virginia sites for up to 10 days a year and go hunting, fishing, hiking, and kayaking. And if it comes time to “bug out”—that is, head for safety in a hurry—folks can hunker down for however long they need at one of the ranches. Miller plans to expand the Colorado site, and two more locations are in the works in Nevada and Wisconsin. He’s looking for new investors as he hopes to eventually open at least a dozen sites.
Think of the ranch network like a timeshare for the doomsday set.
“You’ve got a place to sleep and a place to lock your supplies,” Miller says. “We are not fancy whatsoever. But [we’ll] keep you alive.”
There is a variety of housing on each of the sites, the exact locations of which Miller declined to give for privacy reasons. (Preppers often don’t like to go public, fearing that if a disaster hits, they’ll be mobbed by folks who weren’t prepared.) The housing is rustic, mostly constructed from logs, and consists of single-family homes and treehouses. There is also at least one large, multilevel house with a fortified underground metal or concrete bunker to ostensibly protect against nuclear blasts or other apocalyptic events.
Folks can also splurge on pricier memberships, in the $20,000 range per family for multiple years. That includes a nicer, larger, furnished, private room above ground in a resort-style wooden lodge, says Miller. Some have private bathrooms, others are shared.
“We have a lot of different buildings and a lot of different housing options because we don’t know what kind of disaster is going to hit,” says Miller.
Each room has a separate air supply, so if there’s a deadly virus outbreak it won’t spread through the air ducts. But having your own air ducts is about as lavish as it gets at Fortitude Ranch. Preppers paying the lowest prices in the Fortitude Ranch tier should expect to be sleeping on crude bunkbeds—basically storage shelves with foam mattresses on top—and sharing rooms, bathrooms, and just about everything else with one another.
Even when the world is coming apart at the seams, you get what you pay for.
“It’s inevitable a deadly pandemic will happen,” says Miller, who doesn’t believe the coronavirus will be the big one. He’s more concerned with bioterrorism or virus mutations. “We just don’t know when or how bad it will be.”
Both the Colorado and West Virginia sites, which are capped at 500 people, are stocked with a year’s worth of food, including 50-pound bags of rice and pinto beans. There are also seeds for plants that can be grown indoors through hydroponic gardens or in outdoor gardens, and both sites also have free-range chickens, goats, horses, and guard dogs (along with cattle at the West Virginia location). There’s even a room equipped with an operating table and basic medical supplies.
The folks who are buying into this survivalist community don’t take their safety lightly. Each member is asked to store a gun—preferably a 12-gauge shotgun or AR-15—on site, and there’s a ready supply of ammunition available. There are also treehouse guard stations to keep nonmembers out.
Clients include a lot of businesspeople, retirees, younger families with children, doctors, nurses, and even teachers, according to Miller.
Tom, 53, a longtime real estate agent in a Baltimore suburb who declined to give his full name, got a family membership to Fortitude Ranch’s West Virginia community. He became a prepper after the Great Recession wiped out much of his business.
“If you need a place to go to, I think that’s your best odds of surviving a crisis situation,” says Tom. “It’s affordable. … There is no other option around here.”
The affordability factor is a big selling point in the prepper community.
“It’s a brilliant idea,” says Salt Lake City–area prepper Chrystle Poss, who runs the Survival Spot blog. “A lot of the original survival community models were priced just way out of your average person’s reach. This makes it so the average American can afford peace of mind in case of an emergency.”
That said, she’d advise anyone considering joining such a community to check into the people who own it and the other members.
If everything looks good, she says, “it’s a great alternative for the average prepper who can’t afford to buy the underground bunker like the millionaires do.”