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Forbes Travel Guide 5-Star Award + The Bright Side of 2020

On the Bright Side

2021 is looking brighter. The first reason is we’ve just earned our 8th consecutive Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award! We are proud of that achievement in a normal year, but during a pandemic, we are thrilled that our staff’s dedication is being recognized for the incredible that feat it is. We congratulate each property that achieved a Forbes Travel Guide destination, judged on 900 separate standards, even as the rules of travel were being rewritten.

General Manager Jon Martin added, “Early in 2020 we were faced with adjusting to a growing pandemic as we tried to anticipate how it would affect our business. Our focus for the entirety of 2020 was to prioritize the safety of our guests, employees and community, without diminishing our levels of service.  Each and every member of our team made adjustments and added new service experiences whenever we had to remove something in response to the pandemic.”

Stars at The Ranch during the announcement that The Ranch has won the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award for the 8th consecutive year
The Ranch’s summer starscape from Top of the World peak. Photo by Robert Cole Photography.

“When we could have easily found excuses, our team found solutions. It is an honor to see their hard work and dedication rewarded.” ~ General Manager Jon Martin

We closed in March and reopened with strict protocols that have proved extremely effective. As we approach a year since our closure, we are looking back to see what has allowed us to remain successful – an exercise in counting our blessings, because we have so many things we are grateful for despite a tough year. We hope you’ll enjoy a helping of stardust from today’s happy announcement.


5 Silver Linings from 2020

1.Rooting in Nature

From the moment The Ranch at Rock Creek became a guest ranch, almost 11 years ago, owner Jim Manley wanted the experience to be rooted in nature. Guests received a bike upon check in for transportation but they were also encouraged to walk and take in the scenery. At a minimum, they would see more wildlife, but more likely, they would adopt a slower pace of Ranch life. This act of trading horsepower for horses and bikes would give us the break we all need on vacation – trading daily stresses and routine for a deeper connection to the world around us.

a corporate group mountain bikes across The Ranch's trailsCross-country biking on our new trails.

We invested in e-bikes to empower our guests to ride around the property and tackle our new cross-country mountain bike trails, and we encouraged people to spend more of the day outside than they would in the course of their daily life. We developed 12 new activities, including sapphire mining, with gravel from the Sapphire Mountains that abut The Ranch, Ride Along with a Rancher, Respite on Rock Creek, and a five peaks challenge. We found over the course of the year that these were competing with horseback riding, fly fishing and shooting sports for the honor of being some of our guests’ favorite activities.

British TV presenter Simon Reeve recently wrote about travel in a recent piece for The Telegraph “Travel is part of our make-up – we need it in our lives. Montana, in a land of neck-craning views, where vast skies are a stage for troupes of dancing clouds, possibilities for adventure are endless. A higher end option for exploring the landscape, The Ranch at Rock Creek offers horse-riding, hiking trails and a chance to test your limits with a survival course in frontier skills.”


2. Lower Capacity, Higher Connection

Upon reopening we lowered our capacity to 60% in the summer and 40% in the winter. Many businesses had to make this change to keep indoor environments safe, even as they knew it would limit the viability of their business. Our dining team pivoted to make experiences customizable to people’s comfort levels – whether they were comfortable dining in our dining rooms or in their accommodation.

Food & Beverage Manager Marilyn D’Angelo said, “As peoples’ comfort levels differed, we needed to engage guests on an individual level. We have always styled cuisine to their needs, but now serving had to be styled and customized. The result is that we got to know them even better. We were socially distant but we gained a better connection to our guests.”

A couple enjoy coffee in rocking chairs outside their creekside glamping cabin at The Ranch at Rock Creek
A couple enjoys coffee on the porch of one of our creekside glamping cabins.

Fresh pastries from our French-trained pastry chef are the best way to start a morning, which is why they’ve been a staple in the Great Room for years. We pivoted into personal service – delivering coffee & pastry orders to our guests each morning to avoid an influx of people in the Granite Lodge. Feedback showed our guests loved reading the news on their scenic porch with their favorite coffee and decadent pastries before heading to their breakfast reservation. Likewise, we created Happy Hour on the Porch as an option for the summer, where a bartender would bring hors d’oeuvres and make an artisan cocktail on their porch at golden hour.

Watch our Relais & Châteaux Delicious Journeys film about Preserving the Legendary West thorough our cuisine.

These new dining experiences posed challenges, but Executive Chef Drage has always sought ways to meld the Montana farm and ranch landscape that produces the ingredients with the elevated finished product. This year our team achieved that in weekly Cowboy Breakfasts on Piney Pond and with daily experiences on the Aspen Deck or on the Granite Lodge Patio.


3.Off the Beaten Career Path

When you live and work in the middle of nowhere like we do, you learn to approach work ready to lend a helping hand. Our employees are trained in ranch-wide Forbes Travel Guide standards and most of our employees train in multiple departments. That was a key to our success this year. Employees were paid to stay home when they were feeling ill, encouraged to seek testing immediately, and given a safe environment to quarantine–with management ensuring that they have everything they needed to be comfortable. When these precautions took place, our staff stepped up to cover for other departments that needed help.

Masseuse Candace Sellman
Spa Massage Therapist, Supervisor and Employee of the Year Winner Candace Sellman (photo taken in 2018).

This was a silver lining, but it also led to other unforeseen benefits – people in different departments became closer and people felt they were in this together. We even created an Employee of the Year category called “Mountain Mover.” The winner, Spa Supervisor Candace Sellman, helped in housekeeping, food & beverage and transportation – doling out a dose of her positivity to each department she helped.

Manager of the Year Award Winner, Housekeeping Manager Stephanie Boutry noted, “Staff came together more than ever before, but you could also see them developing new skills, venturing into areas they may not have tried if it wasn’t for this pandemic. I saw a number of employees find new career paths where they feel even more fulfilled with the work they do and resolved to stay longer in a place they felt even more at home.”


4.Safety as a Foundation

Other employees stood out in their commitment to making The Ranch a safer place. Our HR Manager Cat Johnson believes that this process began with management’s approach to the pandemic, “We count ourselves very fortunate to have ownership that was inclined to keep and support staff we had hired for the year and those that are with us long-term. Our staff is instrumental in the guest service for which we are known. Being able to avoid mass layoffs was an incredible boon for us. It helped that our staff was on board for our newly implemented protocols.”

“These protocols still allowed them to take pride in what they do, where they are and maintain a genuine desire to provide our guests with an amazing experience.” ~ HR Manager Cat Johnson

Group snowshoeing at The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana
Lead Fly Fishing Guide Eli Smith leads a staff snowshoeing adventure (taken in 2019).

Safety and preparedness play an important part of life in frontier Montana. Recreating responsibly took on a whole new meaning this year as emergency and hospital services were stretched across the country. Another Employee of the Year, Homestead Hero, Eli Smith, was recognized for making The Ranch safer by being an EMT, but for also watching out for ways employees and guests could be safer.

Activities Director Patrick Little is certified to train EMTs and has done so for years. We often have multiple EMTS on property and our community is also safer because we feed more emergency personnel into Granite County. We’ve made countless upgrades to safety, from our horse mounting deck to cleaning procedures that guests may not notice, but have resulted in a foundation of enhanced service standards.


5.Mindful Management

An elevated appreciation for mental health has been imbued into travel and hospitality – an industry known for long shifts and a work hard, play hard mentality. This year has allowed us to put ever more value into work/life balance. The Ranch paid for employees’ health insurance during closure; we encouraged staff to speak with General Manager Jon Martin with any concerns; and when we reopened, we brought in a local therapist to provide free one-on-one sessions with our staff members. The accessibility of a mental health therapist led employees that might not have sought help to find it, but it also emboldened a spirit of mental health support that helped us all. The Ranch was named a Community Leader in the 2020 Trip Savvy Editor’s Choice Awards for our efforts in supporting employees and the environment in 2020.

Woman reads a book by the banks of Rock Creek in Montana
Respite on Rock Creek

We believed that having a healthy staff would also help keep our guests safe. Meanwhile, we found our guests reducing their mental and physical stresses while at The Ranch, just like we were as we skied, hiked and biked the stress away in our time off. Our Granite Spa opened up with a litany of new safe protocols which have been extremely effective. We noticed a spirit of people wanting to take better care of themselves. More than any other year, we’ve seen our guests rebook spa services during their stay. Our spa team heard so many stories of people appreciating the healing power of touch in a year when it’s so markedly missing. A massage can help sooth muscles, but it also has the ability to fill a basic human need of connection to others.

Our meditation and Art in Nature activities both provided a therapeutic approach for guests. These activities, as well as no touch treatments like wildcrafting, tea blending and Respite on Rock Creek have inspired us to offer our inaugural Roam & Restore Wellness Weekend this spring – using what we’ve learned through the year to help people reconnect and learn skills to better handle the stressors of pandemic life.


As we look forward to 2021, we are emboldened that our efforts have resulted in better experiences for both employees and guests. Thanks to each of our guests for putting your confidence in us and writing to us or reviewing us on TripAdvisor. Your business and feedback has been invaluable.

As Forbes Travel Guide Editor Jennifer Kester wrote today, “Even in the midst of a global pandemic, service remains paramount. It’s more important than ever before that properties demonstrate the utmost regard for their guests’ wellbeing: 75 percent of a hotel’s rating is based on its service and genuine care and concern shown by the staff, while 25 percent is determined by the quality of its facilities.When you’re ready to travel again—whether it’s to embark on a far-flung escape or a low-key staycation—check into one of the best hotels in the world.”

The pandemic reminded us that we never know what tomorrow will bring, but we know our team has shined light on the path ahead. We look forward to sharing our sky high standards with more of you in the coming years.

The Staff at Rock Creek: 2020 Employees of the Year

Employees of the Year

Exceptional Stars of an Exceptional Year

This year we’ve relied on our staff’s dedication, versatility and above-and-beyond service approach to make our way through the changing landscape of the hospitality industry. We closed during Montana’s stay-at-home order and when we reopened, the stakes were higher. We spent months changing everything we’d fine-tuned over our first ten years in an effort to protect those who we relied on. Management stated from day one that employee safety had to be established before we could safely welcome back guests.

Barn Manager Hailey and Wrangler Brittney care for horses on Whiskey Ridge at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Thanks to The Ranch’s 6,600 acres, new social distancing protocols were adapted on all activities.

Though we are a small operation in the hospitality world, The Ranch at Rock Creek is the largest employer in Granite County. 180 jobs were at risk if we couldn’t reopen. And we could only reopen if our staff redoubled their safety efforts, covered shifts for any staff member staying home when they weren’t feeling well, and became proficient at executing the new standards we required. Last year, we recognized only three people, but we had to expand our employee of the year award to include the exceptional efforts these seven individuals achieved this year. It was far from just these people that took that commitment seriously, but we are very pleased to recognize the year’s shining stars. Thank you, sincerely, to all our staff for your commitment during a hard year, and thank you to our guests for supporting the safety efforts we put in place.

 


Mountain Mover: Candace Sellman, Spa Supervisor

Our Mountain Mover award winner is always going the extra mile to help their teammates, cover shifts and be flexible with scheduling. They understand that a ranch requires the wearing of many hats and understanding the extraordinary times call for flexibility and positivity. Spa Supervisor Candace Sellman is the epitome of Mountain Mover, helping out with dishwashing, housekeeping and driving while creating a safe experience in the spa. If you’ve ever had a massage from Candace, you’ll know she is exceptional at her most specialized role, but she seems capable of anything she puts her mind to.

Employee of the Year Candace Sellman
Mountain Mover Candace Sellman

“Candace is a rock star in every way you look at her. She gives incredible treatments, she handles operations in spa, she looks for any other people she can assist when she is not busy with her primary position. This year she has been a vital helper with housekeeping, food and beverage, and laundry, often coming in before or staying after her schedule in the Granite Spa. She has done the same with assisting the front desk in doing drives. We love her and appreciate every thing she does for The Ranch as a whole!” ~ Spa Manager Brooke Bucher

 


Master Ranchers: Ranch Manager Rob Laird and HVAC Technician David Todd

Our master ranchers excel at specialized skills that serve to enhance both their department and The Ranch in general. “Rancher” means many things at our property because we are both a working cattle ranch and a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star guest ranch. We have two winners in this category because it’s impossible to separate the importance of the agricultural and tourism operations of our ranch.

Employee of the Year Rob Laird
Master Rancher Rob Laird with his daughter, Barn Manager Hailey Laird

“Not only does Rob have the skills and work ethic developed over a lifetime of ranching in the region, Rob ALWAYS takes the time to teach. He is always there to answer a million questions and teach us anything and everything we could ever want to know. It could be about fencing, calving, pasture rotation, bovine pink eye (in the summer or winter, it is different I now know), the breeding process, throwing a rope, getting your horse to turn on a cow, trimming a hoof and more. It is his quiet leadership and guidance that makes him most special to me and our department. He shares this knowledge with our guests through the Ride Along with a Rancher activity.” ~ Lead Wrangler Ariel Roselle

Employee of the Year David Todd
Master Rancher David Todd

“David consistently goes above and beyond his HVAC role at the ranch. His skillset allows him to work on so many different pieces of equipment around The Ranch, including boilers, furnaces, refrigerators, chillers, ice machines and all sorts of kitchen equipment, and he is able to fix everything he works on. David always has a positive attitude and is willing to take on any project no matter the difficulty or duration and works whatever hours are necessary to complete his work without interfering with other ranch operations. I am happy to have him as a part of the team.” ~ Engineering Director Michael Heinz

 


Homestead Hero: Lead Fly Fishing Guide Eli Smith

Our homestead hero is chosen from the many safety-conscious team leaders. During Covid and in the Montana wilderness, the adventurous (and occasionally dangerous) task of navigating inclement weather and outdoor adventures, our hero ensures The Ranch is always running as safely as possible. For Eli this was anything from mask wearing, social distancing, lightning warnings to emergency preparedness and his role as a local first-responder.

Employee of the Year Eli Smith
Homestead Hero Eli Smith

“Eli is a nose to the grindstone worker. His knowledge of what it needs to be a professional guide and outdoorsman is only amplified by his skills as an EMT. His calm demeanor and professionalism have led our ranch team and community through emergency situations with grace and yes, safety first always.” ~ Activities Manager Kelsey Bruns

 


Ranch Trailblazer: Front Desk Agent Glory Aulik

Our Ranch Trailblazer shows exceptional leadership skills, stepping in during times of need to take charge and ensure The Ranch runs smoothly. Always leading by example, winner Glory remains cool, collective and cheerful – always ready to lead by example.

Employee of the Year Glory Aulik
Ranch Trailblazer Glory Aulik

“From the day Glory started she has been making improvements at The Ranch. Guests and employees alike benefit from her positive attitude, efficiency and willingness to create memorable experiences. Her natural ability to lead and her desire for excellence makes her a real Ranch Trailblazer.” ~ Director of Rooms Linda Walser

 


Service Superstar: Server Kayden Windsor

In our seventh consecutive year as a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star property, our service-driven staff shines in what we refer to as “homestead hospitality” – an approach that values service and personality equally. Kayden is a perfect example of someone who is able to deliver a personalized touch and show a sincere interest in providing a Five-Star experience.

Employee of the Year Kayden Windsor
Service Superstar Kayden Windsor

“The energy that Kayden brings to The Ranch at Rock Creek is contagious-during 2020 it’s the one thing you want to catch. His attitude sets the tone for service and the mood, not only in the dining room, but across The Ranch. Not only does he work tirelessly in the Food and Beverage department he has helped out in housekeeping, at the Front Desk and on drives. He has the energy of a Christmas elf, 365 days a year. Kayden is second to none when it comes to Hospitality; it comes naturally to him and we are lucky to have him on our team at the Ranch. As steady as the sun comes up every morning so does Kayden come to work with a smile on his face.” ~ Food & Beverage Director Christina Wernikowski

 


Manager of the Year: Housekeeping Manager Stephanie Boutry

Our Managers have worked especially hard this year, so often working tirelessly in the day-to-day operations and managing personnel and service standards at the same time. Housekeeping is the backbone of any property, but especially in this year that required a sky-high level of spotlessness. Stephanie worked at The Ranch for its previous owner, before it was a guest ranch, almost 14 years ago. Since returning she has been a force at The Ranch, never accepting “good enough” and managing her housekeeping team with compassion and spirit.

Manager of the Year Stephanie Boutry
Manager of the Year Stephanie Boutry

“It would be impossible to be a successful luxury property without our great Housekeeping team, led for over two years by Stephanie.  She is both compassionate and driven by perfection. Every time we walk through a room to inspect, Stephanie looks for ways to improve our guests’ experience. No detail is too small and our guests regularly comment about how great the Housekeeping team is and how impressed they are with the thoughtful touches they return to in their room like eyeglass cleaner placed next to their glasses.” ~ General Manager Jon Martin

 


Thanks to all our staff who kept us going through this particularly challenging year. We know that our second decade will be even better than the first, if we’re able to surmount these challenges and improve the guest experience.

Shop Small | Philipsburg Brewing Company Banana Bread Recipe

We’re celebrating American Craft Beer Week with local, award-winning small business Philipsburg Brewing Company and their Corner’s Porter Dark Chocolate Banana Bread recipe. Below, Sales and Marketing Manager Maddy Mason shares her connection to The Ranch at Rock Creek, her love for banana bread and how this recipe came to be.


We’re also hosting six days of contests to celebrate our Instagram community reaching 60K followers. Please go to @theranchatrockcreek to read more and learn how to enter.

Corner’s Porter Banana Bread Recipe

Philipsburg Brewing Company Dark Chocolate Porter Banana Bread Recipe

 

Ranch Traditions: 7 Years as a Forbes Travel Guide 5-Star, 127 Years as a Homestead

The falling snow might as well be confetti today. We’re thrilled to announce that we’ve earned our 7th consecutive Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award! Forbes Travel Guide is the only independent, global rating system for luxury hotels, restaurants and spas, and they judge properties based on 900 rigorous standards. We are so proud of our staff that continues to translate our own unique homestead hospitality into world-class service year after year. 

Horses walking in the snow at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Photo by Activities Manager Kelsey Bruns, who is also our beekeeper and a Master Naturalist who helped rescue a golden eagle near The Ranch last year.



7 Years as a Forbes Five-Star Property

Last year, we made a big announcement when we earned our 2019 Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award – we were to eliminate single-use plastics by Earth Day.

View of The Ranch at Rock Creek in the spring from a drone
The Ranch continues its sustainability pledge after eliminating single-use plastics in 2019.

We achieved our goal, but continue to work on a robust sustainability program (more about that later this year). Our brief was a difficult one – to ensure our sustainability goal didn’t compromise our service standards. This year’s award is proof that we could raise our standards for sustainability and service simultaneously.

“Since The Ranch opened its doors 10 years ago, we strived to prove that a ranch could combine inspiring activities, amazing cuisine and exceptional luxury service. My team and I are proud to have earned this award again for 2020. Our success is owed to the team of professionals that day in and day out come to work with a simple task of providing our guests with unforgettable experiences.” ~ General Manager Jon Martin

Congratulations to all the hotels, restaurants and spas that have worked so hard to earn this award.


10 Years as a Guest Ranch

This year’s announcement comes at the same time as another important announcement, 2020 marks our 10 year anniversary! We will be commemorating our first decade during a special celebration weekend this May.

An RC saddle sits atop a horse, ready for a trail ride

Though it’s not all about the numbers, we’re incredibly proud that eight of those years have been as a Relais & Chateaux property and seven have been as a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star winner.

Holding these designations has not been easy, but it has been possible for two reasons. The Ranch at Rock Creek was founded in a historic tradition, a working ranch that is also a family ranch for Jim Manley and his family.

The second reason is the same as the basis for our Forbes Travel Guide distinction – our dedicated staff. Executive Chef Josh Drage has been with the property since it began, building a farm-to-table dining program that supports Montana and regional agriculture.

Executive Chef Josh Drage prepares for our fall harvest celebration - carrying a plate of roasted vegetables.Executive Chef Josh Drage.

Activities Director Patrick Little has also been with The Ranch since its first days as an all-inclusive property – building an activities program of over 40 year-round activities and an award-winning kids’ club that allows travelers of all ages to explore our 6,600 acres. Other 10-year employees include Maintenance Associate Mike O’Dell and Kitchen Manager Kelly Fernatt.


Activities Director Pat Little and Activities Manager Kelsey Bruns during photography class led by National Geographic photographer Jay Dickman. Photo by Lead Shooting Instructor Myron Weirich.



127 Years as a Homestead

Buying their dream ranch also allowed the Manleys to preserve the land and the way of life associated with it. The Ranch still has its original homestead barn and house, both loving restored as accommodations. If you tour the property, you see evidence of the brands and history that have been integral in its formation.

Original homestead at The Ranch at Rock CreekOriginal Homestead at The Ranch at Rock Creek. Photo circa 1940 courtesy of Judy Staninger Guernsey.

River House is a large luxury home at the world's first Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star guest ranch.
The original homestead, now called River House, at The Ranch at Rock Creek. 

In the 1970s, while the ranch was still a family ranch, the Historic Barn was used as a functioning horse barn. Hay was kept in what we now know as Loft, and Stables was full of riding stock. We were visited recently by a gentleman who lived in River House (see above) while his family owned the ranch at that time. He fondly recalled how he would play basketball in the loft in late winter, after enough hay was tossed out to feed the herd.

Peeking through a wagon wheel to glimpse at The Ranch's treasured Historic Barn accommodations.
The Historic Barn through the spokes of our chuck wagon. 

He also remarked how happy he was that we had kept the original barn door from the Historic Barn. He knew this was the original barn door because he’d carved his initials into the door as a young man and left a tick mark for every time he was thrown from a horse that lived in this barn. The barn door has a roughly carved “GB” underscored by 15 tick marks. These grooves tell the history of a young man learning to ride, while making his mark on our history.

Initials on the HIstoric Barn door
The original Historic Barn door with initials “GB” and 15 tick marks for each time he was thrown from a horse.

“This ranch was homesteaded in 1893 and the spirit of the past 127 years is an important part of The Ranch at Rock Creek. When our guests walk back to their accommodations from dinner they admire the same stars, breathe the same mountain air, and cross the same creek that residents of the ranch have enjoyed for over a century. While we certainly go to great lengths to make each guest’s experience is a luxury one, we always strive to do so while maintaining the authenticity of the West.” ~ General Manager Jon Martin



Thank you to each of the guests and staff members who’ve helped us maintain this goal. Stay tuned for more information on how returning guests will be invited to “make their mark” at The Ranch at Rock Creek in our 10th year

Top 9 Ranch Captures of 2019

The Ranch’s Instagram community is now 17 times our Montana county’s population. Every December, it’s fun to look back at the pictures that originated in the wilderness of Granite County but resonated worldwide. Read the stories behind our top 9 of 2019.

Click on the photo to see the full-sized photo or watch the video.


1. “Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile”
by Eric Bunting @elbunt

https://www.instagram.com/p/B3zTcA5Hgb8/

It’s no surprise that our number one photo is equine. Our 75-horse herd inspires us daily and shows up regularly on our feed. Though it’s hard to choose a season we love most, autumn holds a special place in our hearts. The pace of life slows down, the harvest begins and we celebrate the “last, loveliest smile” with Labor Day, Whiskey & Water, Autumn Harvest and Thanksgiving weekends. Former Rancher Eric Bunting captured this beautiful scene when he worked at The Ranch as a photography and activities guide.


2. Dashing into Christmas
by Caleb Jordan Lee @calebjordanlee

https://www.instagram.com/p/B6TabXNB1Ly/

The Friday before Christmas many of our guests were setting off for The Ranch from places around the country and the world. No one was immune to the feeling of holiday excitement. Our running of the horses is always breathtaking, but in the snow it is truly awe-inspiring. A few years ago, Filmmaker Caleb Jordan Lee visited The Ranch on a shoot for Relais & Châteaux and his video of the herd heading in from pasture was poetry in motion. The running of the horses happens year-round and being close to an entire herd running free has been known to inspire racing hearts and tears of joy.


3. June Bug
by Mindy Avila @mindyavila

https://www.instagram.com/p/BsdRiBQH9zU/

Mindy Avila took over our account for a Ranch Life Takeover and shared the story of a calf named June Bug. Ranchers from around the area will confess that although you rarely name each and every calf born, it’s not unusual to form a special attachment. Stay tuned for our first Thursday Ranch Life Takeover of the year with Barn Manager Hailey Laird, where she’ll talk about one of her favorite cows, Sweet Pea.
Read more…

The Staff at Rock Creek: 2019 Employees of the Year

If you’ve been to The Ranch, seen our TripAdvisor reviews or even wandered onto our Instagram profile, you’ll know, our staff is what gives us our Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star shine.

According to General Manager Jon Martin, “Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from our guests that the people are what make this place spectacular. Even in an incredible setting, the staff is always what makes our guests return.”

At our Ranch Christmas party this week, the votes were counted and our employees of the year were announced. Though every staff member at The Ranch works in concert to exceed our guests’ expectations, Jon took a moment to explain the invaluable contributions made by this year’s award winners.

Ellie, Cat and Chuck, The Ranch at Rock Creek's Employees of the Year, stand with General Manager Jon Martin
Left to Right: Ellie Walsh, General Manager Jon Martin, Cat Johnson and Chuck Gursky. Read more…

Master Naturalists: Golden Eagle Rescue


In 2017, The Ranch started its Master Naturalist program to better explain the beauty of our exceptionally diverse eco-system. In 2018, it expanded to include National Geographic’s Year of the Bird, and in 2019 we’ve added the Rock Creek Field Guide (e-mail) and special classes like our Christmas week Lewis & Clark Corps of Discovery Skills Class.

What we didn’t know is that our Montana master naturalists would play an even more active part in helping our eco-system. Read about the rescue, recovery and release of a golden eagle. At the end, you’ll find two important ways you can help raptors in the wild today.


The Rescue

On October 12, 2019, Ranch Master Naturalist and Activities Manager Kelsey Bruns spotted an injured golden eagle on a blind curve on the Skalkaho Road near The Ranch. The golden eagle was on her back when she found her, so she wrapped some clothing over her to be able to hold her wings together. She then, rolled her over, picked her up and took her to the side of the road. Kelsey placed her clothing over her head so that she couldn’t see and was less likely to get spooked and fly away.

Wild Skies Raptor Centers Jesse Varnado holds the rescued golden eagle
Rescued golden eagle, held by Wild Skies Raptor Center’s Jesse Varnado. Photo by Activities Director Patrick Little.

Kelsey reported it to the Wild Skies Raptor Center in Potomac, Montana. The Wild Skies Raptor Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to providing rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured raptors in Western Montana. They promote wildlife conservation through on and off-site education programs with live raptors.

“I will forever be in awe that I touched something so wild and free. I am grateful I was able to help such an absolutely stunning creature return to her home.” ~ Master Naturalist Kelsey Bruns

Kelsey, Activities Director Patrick Little and Guide Madi King, all Montana Master Naturalists, helped Wild Skies Raptor Center’s Jesse Varnado secure the golden eagle for x-rays. Patrick captured the rescue on camera. Watch the video of Jesse holding her.


This young golden eagle has a 7 ft. wingspan. Hatch-year eagles have a little bit longer flight and tail feathers than adults. Photo by Activities Director Patrick Little. 

It was determined that the golden eagle’s injuries were likely sustained in a car collision on the blind curve. Although roadkill and other carrion often serves as part of Montana raptors’ diets, living near roadways can also endanger the eagles.

Jesse determined that the 10 lb. young female sustained a pelvic fracture and head trauma due to the collision. She was transported to Potomac, Montana to recover.


The Recovery

Due to their hollow bones, birds like eagles are prone to blood clots when they are healing. The Wild Skies Raptor Center created a treatment program to give her the best possible chance of recovery. The first week of her treatment involved supportive care and containment in order to administer fluids, pain management and adequate nutrition. 


Photo courtesy of Jesse Varnado.

During the second week she was moved outside to move around on her own for two weeks. She dined on venison, rats, rabbit and Guinea pigs.

Once she reached the top perch, Wild Skies started conditioning her for release. During the last two weeks, they exercised her two to three times daily and she was allowed to eat all she wanted. Wild Skies has a permit to collect roadkill to feed the raptors at the center – sticking to a similar diet that they would have in the wild.

“Like most Golden Eagles I’ve worked with over the years, it was an absolute pleasure and an honor to provide her with the time and care she needed to recover.” ~Brooke Tanner, Executive Director of Wild Skies Raptor Center

She was found at 10 lbs. and released at 12 lbs., ready for her return to the Rock Creek area.


Photo courtesy of Jesse Varnado.


The Release

After five weeks of successful recovery, the golden girl was ready to be released. Although she was found near The Ranch, she was released on the mountains at The Ranch, likely part of her previous territory. Watch the video of her release taken by Guide Madi King here.


Releasing the Golden Eagle. Photo courtesy of  Jesse Varnado. 

As a younger female, the raptor center and The Ranch hope she will survive, stay in the area and raise young along Rock Creek. Although mortality is quite high for hatch-year raptors, this center works hard to give raptors a second chance.

She will give back to the team who helped her over the coming year. She was fitted with a GPS satellite transmitter that will help the Wild Skies Raptor Center gather information about migratory, feeding and other behaviors.


Notice the GPS satellite transmitter on the released golden eagle’s back. Photo by Activities Manager Kelsey Bruns.

The transmitter is designed to fall off, but the center is hoping it will stay attached for approximately one year. This is the first time they have every placed a transmitter on a rehabbed bird! Our golden girl is helping make raptor history, and helping this incredible organization learn how to better care for Montana’s rescued birds.



The Two Best Ways to Protect Raptors

Approximately 70-80% of raptors don’t make it past their first year of life. This doesn’t stop the Wild Skies Raptor Center from working hard to increase their odds. Helping a potential breeding female can have a positive impact on raptor populations, which face lead poisoning, vehicle collisions, electrocutions, intentional shootings, trap-related injuries and wind turbine collisions.

According to Executive Director Brooke Tanner, these are the best ways you can help raptors in the wild and after they are rescued:

  1. Switch to non-lead ammunition when hunting. This reduces the incidence of lead poisoning in the raptor population. When lead ammunition is used and birds are hit but not harvested, raptors eat the injured birds, resulting in lead poisoning. The center sees birds die of acute lead poisoning all too often. Read more here
  2. Donate to the Wild Skies Raptor Center’s Giving Tuesday or ongoing donation programs to directly fund more raptor rescues! Donate here.


Read More about The Ranch at Rock Creek’s recent sustainability efforts:

Sustainability Program

Protecting Rock Creek with Trout Unlimited

How to Bird Your World for the Year of the Bird

Sustaining Five-Stars & the Future by Eliminating Single-Use Plastics

Protecting Rock Creek with Trout Unlimited

Sustainability from Field to Stream
Guest blog by Teresa Scanlon, project coordinator with Trout Unlimited



Why We Love Rock Creek

It’s no secret that Rock Creek, the fabled blue-ribbon trout stream tucked away in the mountains of Western Montana, is remarkable. Its steep canyon walls and sweeping valleys are home to both traditional ranching and endless prospects of recreation and exploration.

Guests can enjoy beautiful fall river scenes like this one at Montana's The Ranch at Rock Creek
Rock Creek bridge at The Ranch at Rock Creek.

The hills in Rock Creek are filled with wildlife diversity including moose, bear, mountain goats, and elk, and its waters offer prized fly-fishing opportunities.

A moose crosses Blue Ribbon Rock Creek
Moose crossing Rock Creek. Photo courtesy of Brian Bowen Smith.

That’s why Trout Unlimited’s (TU) local WestSlope Chapter is partnering with the community and other stakeholders to launch a signature program dedicated to protecting and restoring this iconic local watershed for future generations of anglers to enjoy.

A Montana fly fisherman catches a fish in his net
Fly fishing on Rock Creek. Photo by Silvio Mollov.

For over a year now, I’ve been the Trout Unlimited program coordinator, working with individual and public landowners to explore opportunities to improve habitat and connectivity for native and wild trout in Rock Creek.


Why Rock Creek Matters

Biologists recognize Rock Creek as a native trout stronghold with populations of bull trout and westslope cutthroat trout as well as wild browns and rainbows.

A large bull trout is released back into Rock Creek
Bull trout photo by Ranch Guide Madi King.

Anglers from across the country revere Rock Creek for both its accessibility and quality fishing. Yet native and wild trout populations are facing challenges, such as increasing water temperatures and barriers to migration.

Tess Scanlon of Trout Unlimited
Tess at our Whiskey & Water Weekend casting carnival.

I am collaborating with biologists and landowners to address these issues through collaborative projects that benefit both the fishery and landowners.


How The Ranch is Helping

The Ranch at Rock Creek and Trout Unlimited are working together to protect the landscape and fishery in Rock Creek and ensure future guests can enjoy it. I am working with The Ranch to explore installing fish screens on irrigation diversions on the four miles that run through The Ranch’s property.

fish screen projects help promote more sustainable waterways
An established fish screen similar to what will be installed at The Ranch at Rock Creek. Photo courtesy of Trout Unlimited.

The Ranch uses stream water to irrigate their fields for pasture and hay production. Installing a screen at the headgate, which is used to control the water intake, prevents fish from getting stuck in the ditch.

Pastures and hayfields at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Lines are cut into the hayfields by a pivot sprinkler used in irrigation.

In the process of installing a fish screen, the irrigation infrastructure used to divert water from the stream is typically updated to the latest technology. This collaborative project showcases The Ranch’s dedication to environmental conservation and helps keep fish in Rock Creek.

“Rock Creek has a special spot in my heart. Working with local animal protection and conservation groups like Trout Unlimited is so important to everyone in Montana and at The Ranch. There are people, groups, companies and land owners that care deeply and take steps to help preserve the wilds of this great state. It’s uplifting knowing that what we (The Ranch, TU, and our neighbors) do in this valley makes a difference and sets an example of what should be done. I couldn’t work for a property that didn’t care.” ~ Activities Director Patrick Little


How You Can Help

When I attended The Ranch’s Whiskey and Water Weekend, I discussed how guests could contribute to healthy fish populations on Rock Creek. Here are my top tips for protecting local waterways, especially our beloved Rock Creek.

  1. Sponsor a fish in the Race Up Rock Creek. Watch cutthroat trout run the 80k up Rock Creek to spawn! All donations go to our on-the-ground projects to protect Rock Creek.
  2. Be conscientious about when you fish. Midday water temperatures in the summer are hot. Catching and releasing fish at the hottest times of the day can stress or even kill fish.
  3. Join or support your local Trout Unlimited chapter. No matter where you live in the United States, you have a local chapter that will share with you how you can support fishing for the future. Go to TU.org to join or to learn about our research and project work across the country.
  4. Teach a kid how to fish. Building memories and a love for the outdoors breeds the next generation of conservation leaders!


Dalles Rapid on Rock Creek. Photo Courtsey of Trout Unlimited.

 

Christmas in Montana: A Few of Our Favorite Things…

Cream-colored ponies, crisp apple strudels and sleighbells may be a few of Maria Von Trapp’s favorite things, but they are also some of ours. While the first snowflakes fly at The Ranch, and we gear up for another season of all-inclusive skiing, we’re dreaming of our homestead for the holidays. In the spirit of the season, our Ranchers have shared a few of their favorite things about Christmas in Montana.

The fire roars in Granite Lodge’s Great Room during our Country Christmas holiday celebrations
Our Montana Christmas traditions include plenty of time by the fire in the Granite Lodge’s Great Room.



1.Montana is Christmas in a Snow Globe

“I love Christmastime in Montana, because aside from all the pines being dusted with snow and all the horses starting to look like teddy bears with their winter coats, it’s the time of the year my family all comes to town. My mom has a gift of making Christmas (no matter where we are) warm and cozy. It’s my favorite time of the year!” ~ Barn Manager Hailey Laird

Draft horse team Bob and Buster will start training to pull our sleigh soon
New draft horse team Bob and Buster will start training to pull our sleigh soon. Photo by Hailey Laird

I love Christmas in Montana because it is always a truly white Christmas. Growing up I didn’t have snowy Christmases, and living here I have one every year! Montana in her best winter white really gets you in the Christmas spirit! It’s a wonderful reason to warm up by a fire and drink hot cocoa with your friends and family.” ~ Recruitment & Training Manager Cat Johnson

Feet of snow creates heart shapes on top of the fences around The Ranch
Another reason we love The Ranch’s traditional jackleg fences – they turn to hearts when it snows.

I love Christmas in Montana because this whole valley truly feels like the inside of a snow globe. The trees are dusted with snow, there is a peaceful quiet that settles over everything, and the air always smells of wood fires and crisp air.” ~ Ranch Ambassador Supervisor Katie Acheson

winter and Christmas glamping at The Ranch at Rock Creek
Christmas glamping is available in our Sweet Grass and Trapper hybrid canvas cabins.

 


2. Montana is Rockwellian at Christmastime

“Juliette’s second Christmas was the snowiest Christmas I can remember, snow piled up on the 24th and it continued to fall all day on the 25th. The whole family went for the most beautiful cross country ski in the new snow towing Juliette in the Chariot. It seems the forests are the most peaceful on Christmas because it’s such a busy holiday that folks are not venturing out.  Juliette was bundled up in probably 12 layers so she slept the entire time, but we stopped for a quick fire and hot cider & aquavit by the frozen lake.  The snow was magical and Chef’s love peaceful holidays. We cross country ski every Christmas now; it’s our favorite.” ~ Executive Chef Josh Drage

Executive Chef Drage with daughter Juliette during Christmas
Executive Chef Josh Drage and his daughter Juliette Christmas tree hunting in Montana.

Christmas in Montana feels like a Norman Rockwell Christmas to me. Between celebrating the Granite County Festival of Trees with our community in the Buckle Barn to Yule Night in town, Philipsburg and The Ranch become magical. My first Christmas here we had light snow trickling down continuously all day creating a snow-globe like feel. In town every street lamp has beautiful bows. Montana creates the perfect Christmas.” ~ Guest Services Manager Linda Walser

17 Christmas trees lit up the Buckle Barn before the Festival of Trees gala auction
The annual Granite County Festival of Trees takes place in our Buckle Barn to benefit our local healthcare services.

“There’s no shortage of trees for the taking. For a $5.00 fee to the local Ranger District office, my partner Amy (AM Lead Line Cook) and I can venture out into the National Forests that surround the Ranch to find the perfect Charlie Brown tree and haul it back home for some real Yuletide cheer. It’s our favorite Christmas-time tradition in Montana.” ~ Dining Room Manager Leigh Dollard 

A couple harvest their perfect Christmas tree in Montana’s National Forests for a $5.00 fee
Amy and Leigh carry their harvested Christmas tree back home. 

 


3. Montana is a Winter Playground

“My favorite Christmas memories growing up in Montana have been centered around family and snow. I have one special memory of my sister and I waking up at 5 AM to find Red Flyer Runner sleds and sledding from sunrise to sunset on Christmas day. We would unwrap presents and be out the door to ice fish on Moose lake or Georgetown Lake. Now that I have a family of my own and a husband that lives to ski we have a new tradition of taking the kids skiing at Discovery. ” ~ Housekeeping Manager Stephanie Boutry

Young boy skiing on The Ranch’s local ski mountain on Christmas Day
Stephanie Boutry’s 2.5 year old son skiing at Discovery Ski Area.

We always seem to get a good snowfall in the weeks leading up to Christmas and the look on my girls’ faces when they wake up excited to make snow angels and a snowman is guaranteed to put the whole family in the Christmas spirit. ” ~ General Manager Jon Martin

The Ranch’s General Manager’s yard covered in snow
The view out General Manager Jon Martin’s backdoor. Photo by Brenda Martin.

 


4. Montana is Full of Mother Nature’s Gifts

“I think my favorite thing about the winter time in Montana is the way the world around you forces you to SLOW DOWN. You can’t do anything faster than mother nature will allow.  During those shorter days you are forced to slow down in so many ways; as you drive slowly you notice the world around you, there is no hustle and bustle. You have to take coffee breaks at the shop to warm up and chat with the guys, and best of all you slow down to spend time with all the best people that decided to call this beautiful place home year round.” ~ Lead Wrangler Ariel Roselle

Wranglers drive a team of Belgian Draft horses as they pull our sleigh our winter wonderland
Sleigh rides often take place over the holiday season at The Ranch.

“I love how quiet it gets here on the creek when it snows..” ~ Activities Manager Kelsey Bruns

Photographer Martin Battilana captures a shot of winter fly fishing on Montana's Rock Creek
Our most avid anglers find winter the most peaceful time to fish Rock Creek.


5. Montana is Full of Unique Christmas Traditions

Driving my snowmobile to get groceries with the kids while the roads in Philipsburg are covered with snow is such a great memory for the kids every year.” ~ Reservations Manager Josh Erickson

boy eating snow at a hockey game
Josh Erickson’s son eats a big snowball during a hockey game at the rink in our hometown of Philipsburg, Montana.

“My favorite Christmas time in Montana is the smell…. Cutting down the tree,  the pine filling the house with joy, freshly baked bread, turkey slowly roasting in the oven, everyone bringing together their favorite dish, family getting together after a year of hard work and normal daily living to enjoy each other’s company.” ~ Assistant Housekeeping Manager Chrissy Gursky

fresh baked pastries in the Great Room are a morning tradition at The Ranch
Eating (too many) fresh baked pastries in the Great Room is one of our favorite traditions.

 



We can’t wait to welcome new guests to The Ranch this Christmas and help them create festive memories and traditions of their own. See our Christmas itinerary or view our Big Sky Love celebration over President’s Day Weekend. 

 

Sweet Life of Bees, Year Three

The Honey Flows with the First Snows

Join us as we follow our colleagues—the bees—through their third year homesteading in the Rock Creek Valley.  Read more about their first year and second year on The Ranch.  

by Kelsey Bruns, Beekeeper, Master Naturalist and Activities Manager

A jar of honey bottled on the day of our first fall snow

Keeping the Hives Alive

The end of the 2018 season was slightly anti-climactic. There were a few hive setbacks due to hive health and a less than optimal summer honey season. Knowing this, going into the winter season I had to have a different set of tactics to allow the hives to survive over the winter and have a new plan for the 2019 season.

Ranch Beekeeper Kelsey Bruns stands by her beehives after finding out they survived the cold Montana winter

While I took the hives to the Bitterroot last autumn, in the back of my mind I knew not all of them would survive. It is not unusual for an apiary to lose 30 percent of their hives over the winter. With this math I could be looking at losing two out of our five hives – not the greatest thoughts while driving my precious cargo over a mountain pass to their winter home.

Though losing hives over a winter has become more normal within the commercial industry, it is not ideal.

Like any agricultural job, beekeeping is controlled by the natural environment. Allowing Mother Nature to have control of your livelihood can be difficult to wrap your head around, but as any beekeeper would agree, they put their heart and soul into the bees.

Trials and tribulations often disappear when you are alongside the bees. For me, becoming a beekeeper has never been about making a paycheck or paying bills. Many would say, one becomes a beekeeper because of the love of it.

New Nucleus

Going into the winter season with my foreseen future of a few fatalities in our bee yard, I had to become proactive. In the spring I ordered three nucleus hives. Nucleus hives are six framed hives with bees, brood and a mated queen. These are ultimately a miniature version of our hives on property.

A moose drinks from Welcome Pond at The Ranch at Rock Creek in Montana
Photo by Beekeepr and Activites Manager Kelsey Bruns

They provide a new start for a hive or even just a boost for bee numbers to an already existing hive. Buying nucleus hives gives one hope and light to starting a season off on the right foot with strong and healthy hives. These particular nucleus hives originated from California, were driven to Washington where I purchased them, and then they took a long trip across several  state borders, before I gleefully accept them into our apiary.

Back on Track by Autumn Harvest

As with any living creature, travel can cause stresses. Unfortunately, one of the nucleus hives did not survive the trip, but the other two were able to keep our apiary on track. They helped replace two hives that did not survive the winter. Through all the organizing and work put into the hives this spring, we have five thriving hives going into our next winter which is so quickly approaching us here in Montana.

Jars of honey wait to be bottled before The Ranch's 2018 honey release

At the end of September we had our first snowstorm. It was also the day in which I bottled our 2018 honey. (We release one year after with harvest). It is light in color, and beautifully balanced in floral notes. Our limited 2018 crop was just released on October 11th during our western rendezvous during Autumn Harvest Weekend.

Jarred honey before our 2018 honey crop release