2022 Ranchland Deal of the Year: Bismarck Trail Ranch

2022 Ranchland Deal of the Year: Bismarck Trail Ranch

By Corinne Gaffner Garcia


Published On: June 27, 20231.9 min read
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After the shock of winning a mega-million-dollar Powerball jackpot wears off, one of the first things the winner typically does is quit their job. Neal Wanless did exactly the opposite. After winning $232 million in 2009, the 23-year-old South Dakota cowboy purchased the 47,883-acre Bismarck Trail Ranch and went to work to develop a well-rounded cattle and farming operation.

This past December, Wanless’s efforts paid off, resulting in one of the most significant ranchland sales in South Dakota history — in both price and acreage. The Bismarck Trail Ranch closed for $37 million, more than double the price he paid in 2009.

Wanless was on a routine trip to buy feed in the nearby town of Winner (no joke) when he splurged on $15 worth of Powerball tickets. Flush with his winnings, he was drawn to the Bismarck Trail Ranch.

“It’s beautiful in different ways,” says Robb Nelson, the listing broker with Hall and Hall. “There are rolling hills, draws, and the Belle Fourche River runs through it. You can see the Black Hills and Bear Butte, an important landmark where Plains Indian tribes would meet. To the east, it’s wide-open ranchlands.”

Bismarck Trail Ranch Revenue Streams

Wanless poured his heart and soul into the property. One of the first things he did was have custom homes built for his family.

He added a wide range of improvements, including an indoor arena, outbuildings, working facilities, and a first-class irrigation system. In addition, he created highly profitable revenue streams through grazing and farming leases, including a contract with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to graze 1,000 wild horses on the ranch.

“The BLM captures wild horses and looks for private landowners to keep them — ranchers to run them just as they do cattle, feed them if the snow’s too deep, and things like that,” Nelson says. “It’s a very lucrative program.”

When Wanless decided to sell, a Kansas-based farm and ranching family, owners of J-Six South Dakota Land Holdings, caught wind and jumped on the opportunity to integrate the Bismarck Trail Ranch into their existing operations.

Yet another stroke of luck for the South Dakota cowboy.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with additional details on the Bismarck Trail Ranch.

Originally published in The Land Report Spring 2022.

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