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Category: Giving Back


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:

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

Category: Giving Back


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.

 

Category: Giving Back


How to Bird Your World for the Year of the Bird

2018 is the year of the dog in the Chinese zodiac, but man’s best friend has to share the limelight with another vertebrate, the bird. 2018 marks the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In recognition of the most powerful piece of bird protection legislation ever passed, the National Geographic Society – and by extension its Unique Lodges of the World – are taking part in worldwide conservation efforts to protect migratory bird species, a key cornerstone of our ecosystems.

Sustainability through Conservation

From the very first day of 2018, we began celebrating Montana’s incredible bird population and supporting conservation efforts in a program we are calling Bird Your World. On New Year’s Eve we even decorated the Silver Dollar Saloon with majestic raptors and on New Year’s Day on a snowy Raptor Hike to learn about the hawks, eagles, osprey and other birds of prey that call Rock Creek home.


A bald eagle sits on a fence post near Philipsburg, Montana. Photo by Activities Director Patrick Little.

The Ranch at Rock Creek has been part of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World since 2015. We began as the only US Charter Member. As this eco-tourism collection has expanded, we’ve sought to double our efforts to make our ranch more sustainable. Our main areas of focus are conservation efforts and investment in our local community. National Geographic’s 2016 Unique Lodges Sustainability Report showed the great strides this collection is making to promote sustainable tourism. Read more…

Category: Giving Back


A Joyful Kickoff to the Season of Giving

Giving Thanks

Before thanks have even been given in the traditional American way, we’re giving thanks to our community through a local tradition. This Friday and Saturday, we will host the 4th annual Granite County Festival of Trees in our bedecked Buckle Barn. Though Santa doesn’t make his appearance for another month and a half, it’s fair to say our elves are busy as ever preparing for this charity event. Read on to garner the recipe for our Bar Manager’s wassail-worthy mulled wine. 

17 Christmas trees lit up the Buckle Barn before the Festival of Trees gala auction
“It’s a Wonderful Life” plays in the Buckle Barn before the 2015 Festival of Trees Gala Auction.

Joy in Montana, Joy to the World

The Granite County Festival of Trees is the only major fundraiser for the local non-profit organization, the Granite County Medical Foundation. Since the event’s inception, The Ranch has been a sponsor, and for the last three years we’ve served as angel sponsor and host. The first year, the event raised over $10,000 and last year’s event it raised $35,000 for local health projects.

The outside view of the Buckle Barn after the 2015 Granite County Festival of Trees
Peeking into the windows of the Buckle Barn before the 2015 Gala Auction. 

These projects have ranged from buying new beds for the long-term care and acute care patients at our local medical center to supplying AEDs to local law enforcement vehicles and to helping provide car seat checks and bike helmets to the area’s youth. When you live in a remote mountain environment, you truly appreciate emergency and preventive health services that help your staff, family, friends and neighbors.


Mercantile artisan, Pat Siler of Philipsburg’s Back Creek Pottery, created commemorative ornaments for the event. 

In addition to the Festival of Trees, The Ranch also hosts our hometown’s Granite High School prom and supports a long list of charity projects throughout the year. We believe one of the most important parts of our commitment to sustainability is giving back to local organizations and supporting local businesses and artisans.

“Our whole Ranch team truly enjoys helping to produce this community event. We are proud of our angel sponsorship and look forward to our participation every year. Our group coordinators and culinary team are very talented and create memorable family reunions, corporate retreats and weddings throughout the year. But this greatly anticipated event is extra special because it brings our community together for a wonderful cause and represents the official start to The Ranch’s holiday season celebrations.” ~Steve Shotsberger, General Manager

We are happy to be recognized for our giving and sustainability initiatives through our National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World affiliation, but these charity projects also signify a personal connection to many of our employees, who volunteer their time to serve on local non-profit boards, volunteer for projects and even work as Ski Patrol or volunteer fire fighters to ensure the safety and health of local residents. Read more…

Category: Giving Back


Sweet Life of Bees: A Montana Apiary Story

Join us as we follow our new colleagues—the bees—as they homestead in the Rock Creek Valley. 

Chapter 1, Spring: Welcoming Bees to Rock Creek

by Kelsey Bruns, Beekeeper, Master Naturalist and Little Grizzlies Kids Club Coordinator


New Arrivals


The Pintler Mountain range from the Edith Lake trail. Photo by Kelsey Bruns. 

Summer has arrived and the buzz is high here at The Ranch at Rock Creek. The local Pintler Mountain range is slowing losing its snowcaps, which means the Rock Creek is flowing high and the salmonfly hatch is upon us.


The large salmonfly beckons trout and fishermen on Rock Creek. Photo by Patrick Little.

In addition to fantastic fly fishing for our guests, the local flora is rushing into its full summer bloom. Lupine, larkspur and arrowleaf balsamroot are a few of our native wildflowers that put on a show for us during our mid-summer Montana landscapes. Our new naturalist classes teach adventure-loving guests about the connection between the flora, fauna and landscape.

A hillside of arrowleaf balsamroot. Photo by Patrick Little. 

As a member of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World collection, we strive to offer guests the chance to delve deeper into the very eco-system that makes our corner of Gold Country so special. Our new National Geographic narrative photography workshops also help them use their knowledge of the environment to capture incredible moments throughout their vacation.


Activities Director Patrick Little and Kelsey Bruns share images during a National Geographic photography training session. Photo by Ned Derosier.

As an addition to our sustainability program and to highlight the connection between the local produce used in our farm-to-table dining, we recently added some new livestock to The Ranch. It’s not a new herd of cattle or addition to our thriving horse herd; our new stock is the extremely important and completely captivating honeybee.


Honeybees outside of their new hives. Photo by Kelsey Bruns. 

Our first bees arrived at The Ranch in April. Their arrival meant that I could share another one of my passions with my colleagues and friends. With our long summer days, I know our honeybees will be very busy these coming months and will have a positive impact on The Ranch’s ecosystem. Our hope is that once these hives become established, guests will soon be enjoying the fruits of their labor. Read more…

Category: Giving Back


National Geographic & An Inspiring Year of Sustainable Tourism

Unique Lodges of the World: Sustainability In Action

The National Geographic Society was not content to simply change the face of travel reporting and photography. In 2015, they set out to make “tourism a catalyst for positive change.” They created the Unique Lodges of the World Collection, in order to seek, recognize and promote hotels that made sustainability paramount in their mission. The Ranch at Rock Creek has been part of this incredible collection since its inception—the only US charter member.

A Ranch wrangler proudly caries the stars and stripes during the Fourth of July rodeo at The Ranch at Rock Creek in southwest MontanaPreserving The Rodeo Tradition:  The Ranch’s summer and celebration rodeos involve local rodeo athletes and Ranch staff.

In order to showcase efforts made in the first full year of the collection, National Geographic just released their 2016 Unique Lodges of the World Impact Report. The efforts that our sister lodges are involved in are truly inspiring, and today, we’re even more honored to be a part of this esteemed group. As a group, Unique Lodge members have helped conserve 3.7 million acres of terrestrial and marine habitat, and contributed a collective US $76 million to cultural heritage preservation, in addition to US $4.3 million for community development initiatives. The investment of time, money and manpower across 50 contributing lodges shows their formidable passion for making sustainable tourism the norm, not the outlier in the travel industry. Read more…

Category: Giving Back


Giving Back: A Christmas Season of Stories

Third Annual Granite County Festival of Trees

While we are just finished decking our halls for the upcoming holiday celebrations, we’ve been in the Christmas spirit for over a month.

Sunset at the Buckle Barn before the 2016 Granite County Festival of Trees - hosting is one of the ways we're giving back to the communityThe sun sets before the Gala Auction. Look closely and you’ll see the Christmas trees glowing inside the Buckle Barn. Photo by Rancher Katie Forbes.

On November 11 and 12, we hosted the Granite County Festival of Trees for the second year in a row. The Festival has become a tradition for The Ranch—we’ve been a sponsor for three years. We joined 18 other regional sponsors in supporting this year’s event. Read about last year’s Mystical Mountain Christmas and the first annual event.

Hands go up as people bid on trees during the Granite County Festival of Trees, one of The Ranch at Rock Creek's giving initiatives
A scene from the live auction. The event filled the Buckle Barn. 

This wonderful event serves so many purposes. It supports local healthcare initiatives through the non-profit Granite County Medical Foundation. It showcases the incredible artistic talent we have in a community with only 3,000 residents. Lastly, it allows the community to come together and unite for a worthy cause. This year, the Festival raised over $36,000. Read more…

Category: Giving Back


Securing Sustainability

Sustainability in Wild Montana

The Ranch at Rock Creek is embarking on its sixth year in operation as a guest ranch. As we head into the summer season, we’re examining our commitment to sustainability and how we are responding to the evolution of the travel industry. While we seek high standards, we must also ensure we are growing in a healthy way, in order to provide an unmatchable travel experience for our guests and steady, supportive jobs for our dedicated employees. Just like the frontiersmen who settled in Granite County over the last 150 years, we need to be able to sustain our business in an untamed land—the still wild peaks and valleys of the Northern Rocky Mountains.

Our mission as a travel destination is to stay as close to our authentic Montana Ranch roots as possible while providing an unmatchable luxury experience. For this reason, we’re committed to making improvements each year that allow us to create a lasting home in Granite County, reduce our footprint and support our efforts to be better stewards of the land.

A springtime scene in the Rock Creek Valley with green grass, mountains and stormy skies

Read more…

Category: Giving Back


Supporting Discovery Ski Area, Our Best-Kept Secret

Sunday, April 8th marked the close of a memorable, powdery snow season at Discovery Mountain. Winter refuses to be ushered out without a fight, so late spring skiing was some of the best we’ve ever had. This year, our guests enjoyed all-inclusive downhill skiing and snowboarding throughout the winter, meaning we spent a lot of time on our wonderful local hill.

In 2014, National Geographic chose Philipsburg as one of the Best Secret Ski Towns in North America. We are inclined to agree, although it’s anything but secret in Western Montana.

Enjoy free downhill skiing at Discovery ski area when you travel to The Ranch at Rock Creek

Read more…