BILLINGS — In 1962, when Billings was less than half the size it is today, a new Yellowstone County company called Kampgrounds of America, Inc. was just getting its start, offering campsites for just $1.75 a night.
“We were founded in 1962 down on the banks of the Yellowstone (river), very near where the campground sits right now, and it was a local Billings businessman who had this idea for a campground,” said Toby O'Rourke, the KOA president and CEO, in a recent interview.
Sixty-one years later, a lot has changed. KOA is now the world’s largest system of privately owned campgrounds. But one thing has remained the same: the company still calls Billings home and has now moved into its new headquarters on Transtech Way.
“This is our home, and this is the center of our company. We’re very committed to Billings,” O'Rourke said.
O’Rourke says it was a mixture of outgrowing their old space on the fourth floor of the Transwestern Plaza in downtown Billings and discovering the perfect location that made this move happen.
“We discovered this location, it was about 2018, and then we started contemplating what a building might be for us and getting a lot of ideas about what would really reflect our mission about connecting people to the outdoors. About 18 months ago we broke ground, now here we are moved into the building,” she said.
The 35,000-square-foot building features nods to the history of KOA, celebrates local artists, and welcomes the outdoors with large windows and decorations.
“Most all of the artists are from this region of the United States. Crow or South Dakota Sioux for example,” O'Rourke said. “That (chandelier) was built from using the trees that were, you know, brought down around the property as we built the new building. So, we were able to repurpose those trees.”
It’s a move that O'Rourke said has been an exciting time for the company and that business is booming.
“Coming off the pandemic, our business has just exploded. We’re actually up 40% over where we were in 2019," she said. "We’re also expanding our brand beyond KOA. We have a new glamping brand.”
The glamping brand first opened in Maine and O'Rourke said they have plans to eventually bring it to Montana.