Profile Q & A with Matt Smith, Outdoorsman/Realtor

Matt Smith being interviewed about timber management.Matt Smith is a realtor working for Modern Realty in Midland. He specializes in what he calls “recreational property.” That term is important to Matt given his passion for the outdoors, hunting and fishing. The Meridian High School graduate has been a real estate agent since 2017. Prior to that, for about 15 years, he owned his own business, Smitty’s Iron Works, a fitness facility in Midland. From 1992-2004, Matt served in the United States Army, his last rank was E6 staff sergeant. His service included a tour in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. He’s a familiar face volunteering in the community.  

Matt and his wife, Julie, live on the Tittabawassee River in an area that will eventually again be Sanford Lake. They also have a cottage on Henderson Lake in Ogemaw County. Matt hunts and fishes throughout the Great Lakes Bay region and across Michigan. He’s hunted for elk in Idaho, mule deer in Colorado, antelope in Wyoming, and  wild boar in Tennessee. Catalyst reached out to Matt for his thoughts given that fall is one of the prime times in Michigan for hunting and fishing. 

Q-Why do you hunt and fish?

A: I grew up in a hunting and fishing family so from the earliest age I can remember I was sitting on a five gallon pail on a frozen lake, that’s probably the first kind of fishing I remember being exposed to as a young child. I feel very fortunate to be raised that way. I lived outside of town my whole life and so running around in the woods and chasing squirrels and things of that nature have always been part of how I grew up. As I got older and fitness became important to me, the role that fish and game play into what I eat became an even bigger factor and really made me look at how I can use what I love, being outdoors, as a way that I feed my family, feed myself. It’s come full circle for me in that. 

Successful turkey hunt in Midland County
Q: You use the term “recreational property. What do you mean by that?

A: Ron, to me, recreational property means something that means it’s not a person’s primary residence and they will use it as their family sees fit….Why I use the term recreational property now instead of just hunting property is the realization that not everybody uses property for hunting, not everyone is a hunter, but there are still a lot of people who like to have a place to go to ride recreational vehicles and hike and camp and ride horses and things of that nature. 

Q: What role does recreational property play in our  economy here and in attracting people from outside our area?

A:  The Great Lakes Bay region has such a diverse ecosystem of fish and upland birds and game and things of that nature. It’s one of the reasons why after my time in the military I moved back here after living in a lot of different places because it was really hard for me to find a place that had so many opportunities in the outdoors in such a small area. And, by that, I mean our rivers and streams, our Great Lakes, the diversity of fish in the Great Lakes and then all the deer, squirrels, rabbits, turkeys, pheasant, grouse; it’s just really hard to find another place anywhere that has within a hundred miles the things we have here. So, ultimately it does become a destination for somebody that’s looking for the most bang for their buck in recreational property. It’s  just really hard to argue that you can find more opportunities than here.  
Matt with a white-tailed buck in Midland County
Q: What influences the cost of an acre when it comes to recreational property? 

A: First and foremost, the size of the property. Land is a volume commodity, and what I mean by that is if you sell a one acre lot, for $25,000, that doesn’t mean that the value of an acre of land is $25,000 because if you buy a 20-acre parcel or an 80-acre parcel or whatever, it’s clearly going to go down in price as the size goes up. So, it’s really important to have a line of sight to what the market is saying an acre of land is in these different price segments from five acres to 20 to 40 to 80 to 160 and up because it changes fairly dramatically as you move through those size ranges.

The second biggest factor to me is it open, tillable type land or is it timbered and what is the quality of the timber because in this area which used to be all swamp land, there’s still a lot of low lying, scrubby brushy areas that does not have in any way, shape, or form quality timber on it, then you’ve got some parcels that have really, really nice oaks and maples on them, that’s going to adjust what the market will bear for those pieces of property. So, is there timber or not and then what kind of timber and what is the timber market doing currently that affects what those prices are?
Smallmouth bass on Saginaw Bay
Q: How much does being on a body of water or having a stream run through the property factor in?

A:  Having water affects it a lot. It’s probably one of the number one things when someone comes to me and says, “Matt, I’m looking for a piece of property.” It’s not a deal breaker if it doesn’t have water on the property somewhere whether it’s a creek, a stream, a river, a pond, but if it does have that, that would be a huge bonus. So, what that tells me is this person going to be more aggressive in their pursuit of a property that has water than if it does not have water.

Q-What advice do you have for somebody who’s starting to hunt for recreational property? 

A: Make sure that you’re reaching out to somebody that understands the land and all of these factors that go into the land and has willingness to throw a pair of boots on and go for a walk on this property because I have talked to people a number of times that said we didn’t really walk it, we just kind of looked at it from the road and figured that 40 acres is 40 acres and didn’t really understand everything that was there. So finding somebody that does this quite a bit… . the discussions and conversations that happen while you’re walking the property, you’ll learn a lot about that property from somebody that has an understanding of the timber, the forage, and all of those things. It goes back to that water. All animals have to have food, water, and cover. They have to have it… You can look at the adjoining properties and say, “How does this parcel fit into the macro environment around here, which will help us predict how the wildlife will use that parcel to get to water or get to food or something like that. So you can put the pieces together before you even make a buying decision that will help you make a good buying decision on how you want to use the property.  

Q:  You’ve hunted all over. What makes Michigan and our region special when it comes to the outdoor life?

A: Diversity. It still comes down to diversity. When I was just out west with Julie, driving through South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana, there is no doubt that it is beautiful country, but they still don’t have the diversity of wildlife species in a small area that we do.

Ice fishing in Gladwin County
 I refer to that 100 mile circle, you can drop a pin anywhere you want, and within 100 miles or even 50 miles, to be able to fish the Great Lakes for salmon, to be able to fish for walleye, to be able to fish for panfish, to be able to jump on a river or stream and fish for trout or bass, I just don’t think there’s another place that you could rattle off as long a list of things that you could do that’s within that 50 to 100 mile range; I could pick any given day of the week and say today  I’m going to run up to the Rifle River, I’m going to trout fish. Tomorrow, I’m going to go out on the Great Lakes and I’m going to catch a 30-pound king salmon. The next day I’m going to sit in a tree stand and I’m potentially going to shoot a white tailed deer and then the following day, I’m going to hunt a turkey. That’s four days in a row and I didn’t have to travel. I love the Mitten, I’ll always have a presence here in the Mitten, I’ll always have a home here. 

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Read more articles by Ron Beacom.

Ron Beacom has served as the managing editor of Catalyst Midland since October 2020. He's also a freelance writer for the Midland Daily News and the producer/host of "Second Act: Life at 50 Plus" for WDCQ-Delta College Public Media (PBS). He's the co-producer of two WDCQ documentaries about the Tittabawassee River Disaster in 2020, "Breached! and Breached!2-The Recovery."