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Category: Sustainability

22 Active Sustainability Initiatives in 2022

22 Ways We’re Reducing Our Environmental Impact

As a destination rooted in the landscape, there isn’t a day that goes by where we don’t consider the importance of the natural world that surrounds us. Each year on Earth Day, we take stock of what progress we’ve made toward being a more sustainable resort.

Three guests horseback riding along the creek surrounded by trees

Each department is connected to this goal – from Owner Jim Manley to the staff members who live on-property and hike or bike to work, sometimes waking up to the sound of clashing Bighorn sheep curls outside staff housing.

Since we eliminated most single-use plastics in 2019, we’ve sought more ways to reduce our footprint. In 2021 we shared six sustainable practices. This year, on April 22, 2022, we’re sharing 22 of our initiatives.

Reducing Emissions

1. Walking and biking on propertySince Jim Manley started The Ranch at Rock Creek 12 years ago, his goal was for guests to see the property on foot or by bike, nearly eliminating vehicle traffic. He knew from experience it would be better for the eco-system and allow guests to unplug and see more wildlife.

two guests ride their bikes through the Ranch at Rock Creek arch

2. On-property staff housing & staff shuttlesWe provide staff housing, greatly reducing traffic, and provide shuttles and a staff bike program.
3. Solar powered lights on walkways – After dark, these solar-powered lights allow guests to walk to their accommodations safely.
4. LED lights throughout the resort– We’ve use LED lights throughout The Ranch. When upgrades become necessary, we are dedicated to finding ways to reduce our footprint in accommodations and in public spaces.

Sourcing Locally

5. Locally sourced beverages – We love our local brewers, cider makers and distillers – Philipsburg Brewing Company is located just 20 minutes away and Western Cider, Montgomery Distillery and Black Coffee Roasting Company, based in Missoula, are just a few of our favorite suppliers. They keep us in good spirits!
6. Sourcing ingredients from 100 local purveyors – Our culinary program under Executive Chef Josh Drage sources from over 100 local farms and ranches, most notably from Western Montana Growers Co-op who works with so many local companies, and Clark Fork Organics.

A table filled with fresh produce is just a portion of the fall harvest that we'll featuring during Autumn Harvest Weekend
7. Sourcing straight from Granite County – Our culinary team sources eggs from Farmer Boy Eggs in Drummond, Montana and greens and veggies from Frost Pocket Farms in Philipsburg. Using farms in our county mean less plastic, less fuel and a fresher product.

“Local sourcing means fewer plastic bags, fewer plastic clamshells of produce/fruit shipped across the country, less refrigeration in holding facilities, less fuel to transport and the list goes on… Being part of something like this over time that is bigger than us makes a huge difference in the soil, water and carbon footprint of our community. Produce with Clark Fork Organics is put into reusable farmer market bags and cardboard boxes, and not single use molded plastic container that ends up in the landfill for eternity.” ~ Executive Chef Josh Drage

8. Engineering a closed-loop cattle program – Every year our ranching team comes closer toward the goal of a closed-loop cattle program. Closing the loop means raising our own beef for use in our dining program. Our Cattle Manager Rob Laird helps teach our guests about this process and how it will reduce our footprint in our Ride Along with a Rancher activity, which is part of our all-inclusive activities program.
9. Supporting sustainable farming education in our community – 2022 marks our 10-year partnership with this leader in luxury travel. To celebrate we are auctioning off a ‘Delicious Journey’ – a once in a lifetime experience. Our bidders will help us support sustainable farming education for the children in our community. Visit the auction or make a donation here.

Responsible Recreation

10. Practicing catch and release fishing – Our fly fishing program is centered in the sustainable practice of catch and release. Our mountain-fed stream is one of the few places where non-hybridized, native cutthroat exist in Montana despite coexistence with wild, non-native rainbow trout. Protecting bull and cutthroat populations is a major sustainability concern that will help future generations.
11. Using biodegradable clay pigeons & solar-powered throwers – Our five shooting ranges are hidden within the landscape, but we understand their potential impact on our area. Though we clean our ranges regularly, we also use biodegradable clay pigeons and solar powered clay pigeon throwers.

A family with two young children making notes for The Ranch's all-inclusive Master Naturalist program

12. Teaching conservation through our Master Naturalist program  – Since 2018 our Master Naturalist program has informed guests of all ages about the unique biodiversity along Rock Creek. Through the years we’ve contributed to University of Montana’s bird ecology program, both financially and through bird banding. Taking guests along on these conservation efforts helps them find ways to help in their local communities.
13. Offering Flint’s Forest Ranger’s Program – This year we’ve relaunched our kids program as the Flint Forest Rangers. Flint is our Ranch dog and an intrepid explorer. The program, created with help from Swirl, is also focused on sustainability. Kids learn how to play a positive part in their environment as they recreate responsibly.

Continued Elimination of Single Use Plastics

14. Refilling Water Bottles – Before our concerted effort to eliminate single-use plastics in 2019, we began converting our water bottles to refillable versions. With two on-Ranch activities a day, our guests and guides need a lot of water bottles to stay hydrated. These refillable canteens are available at our Rod & Gun Club, while glass versions are available in accommodations and across the ranch.

Two refillable The Ranch at Rock Creek branded water bottles

15. Sipping with Hay Straws – These days hay isn’t just for horses. We switched to Hay Straws in 2019. They are created from hay crops and serve as a sturdy alternative to both plastic and paper straws. Guests have tried the straws and ordered them for their own homes. We love supporting businesses who are creatively solving problems in the hospitality industry.
16. Providing refillable in-room toiletries – Hotels are known for their single-use toiletry bottles. We realized that this was a huge part of our plastic usage. In 2019, a committee of our employees sought to convert our toiletries and coffee program to use refillable containers. Our housekeeping department keeps up this effort by creating a safe, sanitary way to provide our guests with high-quality body products and in-room coffee.

“This initiative is near and dear to my heart as a group of eight of us came together, with the assistance of our mentors, to create solutions to leave less of a footprint on Mother Earth. Our refillable glass water bottles have been a huge success. We selected a design that was unique and functional with recyclable aluminum lids eliminating the use of more than 15,000 plastic water bottles annually. Once the bottles fulfilled their lifetime, we use our glass crusher to turn them into sand-like particles to be used for future projects on property.” ~ Assistant General Manager Linda Walser

17. Crushing glass – In 2020, we installed a glass crusher on-Ranch. When we use glass bottles in our dining program, we place them in our glass crusher. The sand is used for landscaping across the resort.

Environmental Conservation Efforts

18.  Installing Fish Screens – Last year, Trout Unlimited – Clark Fork Project installed the first fish screen on The Ranch.

“Trout that swim into irrigation ditches on Rock Creek usually end up in irrigated hay fields. Fortunately, this fish screen saves thousands of juvenile and adult trout from mortality every year by providing safe fish passage past the irrigation ditch. The new fish screen and other fish screens being installed in Rock Creek will keep more fish in the creek and are expected to improve fish populations.” ~ Tess Scanlon, TU Rock Creek Project Manager

19. Annual River Cleanup – Since 2015 we’ve hosted a Clark Fork Cleanup. Along with the Clark Fork Coalition and local Philipsburg businesses, like the Philipsburg Brewing Company and Live Montanably, we’ve been able to remove tons of trash from our watershed.
20. Launching our inaugural “Spring Greening” – Over Easter Weekend we launched a new program to plant trees. This year’s efforts were focused around the newly installed fish screen, where new trees will reduce erosion and provide nesting habitats for birds along Rock Creek.

A young family planting a tree with a The Ranch at Rock Creek employee

21. Hosting bees on The Ranch – In 2017, we started our own bee hives. Apiarist Kelsey Bruns has been keeping watch over our hives and showing her progress on our blog. We use this honey in craft cocktails and other elements of our dining program. According to Kelsey, when she checked on the bees this year after the winter, they were doing well and had all survived. Bees are responsible for pollinating so much of the food we and other animals consume, so giving them more places to live helps our eco-system to thrive.
22. Annual Highway Cleanup – We adopted several miles along the Skalkaho Highway near Rock Creek Road. On April 26th we’ll host our annual cleanup effort.

Thanks to each and every member of our community, guests and Ranch family who help us to stay true to these goals and keep our eco-system thriving so future generations will enjoy it.

Read more about our sustainability goals and efforts on our dedicated page and on the blog below.

Category: Sustainability

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


Category: Sustainability

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

Category: Sustainability

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

Category: Sustainability

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: Sustainability

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

As we approach 10 years as a property, sustainability is on our minds. We occupy a remote corner of the world, and keeping consistently high standards in the sticks, so to speak, is a challenge. This is why we’re especially pleased that we’ve earned the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award for the sixth consecutive year! 

A rainbow arches over the Rock Creek valley, home to The Ranch at Rock Creek

Sustaining our Forbes Travel Guide Five Stars

We’re in such exceptional company with other Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star winners like The Broadmoor who has sustained their Five-Star designation for 59 years.

“We’re honored to be recognized once again with the prestigious Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star award. The team at The Ranch at Rock Creek sets out each day to ensure our guests are treated to memorable, luxury experiences. We are so glad to be affiliated with Forbes Travel Guide which shares our passion for genuine luxury hospitality.

Being out here where we are, there’s a certain responsibility and it just feels wrong having plastic out here. We’re at the headwaters of Rock Creek. Being at the headwaters, I think there’s a mental but real responsibility that anything we do, it affects everyone who’s downstream of us.”

~ General Manager Jon Martin, Quote from interview with the Missoula Current

Sustaining Our Environment

Every year that we’ve garnered this incredible award, we’ve taken a moment on the blog to look back at one of the things that is a cornerstone of who we are and how our incredible staff goes above and beyond to maintain this high quality of service. This year, we are looking toward the future and how we can sustain our FTG stars and our natural environment in the long term.

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

It’s no secret that we value our environment. We employ Master Naturalists, we keep bees and Chef Drage is committed to an always farm-to-table dining experience. Since 2015, we’ve created new sustainability initiatives every year, like river clean-ups, reducing plastic waste and supporting local vendors in the Mercantile.

Now, we are doubling down on sustainability. In 2019, we will eliminate single-use plastics.

Eliminating Single-Use Plastics

Eliminating single-use plastics isn’t a decision we made lightly. It presents an operational challenge to our organization and to our employees. It is difficult, but worthwhile.

“We approach our interactions with guests with a “do whatever it takes” attitude. That same mindset is required for responsible stewardship of our ranch lands. Sustainability efforts require a tremendous investment in both time and money. But everyone at The Ranch, from owner to seasonal worker, understands that the time we take with eco-conscious best practices now is an investment in the resilience of our 6,600 acres that will benefit both us and future generations.” ~ Director of Rooms Linda Walser

One of the things we love about our home state, Montana, is that it’s a little behind the times. Most of the time, this means that once we arrive home – 75 minutes from the nearest city – there is no light pollution to obscure the stars. Asking our guests to walk or ride bikes on property means there isn’t significant traffic or petroleum fumes. However, this low population density also means our state lacks a recycling industry and there are some things we just can’t buy from local vendors.

Last year, our county (like many counties across the country), responding to China’s change in recycling imports by cutting out plastic recycling. There are only a few metals that can be recycled in Granite County. While we’ve continued to recycle what we could, it was obvious that a change had to come from within in order to be sustainable to our environment and keep plastics out of landfills and our beloved Rock Creek.

Our 2019 Earth Day Initiatives

By Earth Day, we have introduced the following major initiatives, in addition to a number of smaller initiatives, in order to eliminate single-use plastics.

1. Eliminating Single-Use Plastic Bottles

Our Rod & Gun Club has been committed to providing refillable options for several years, in the form of Kleen Kanteens, but eliminating water bottles completely requires a more robust plan to ensure we are maintaining accessibility to water throughout a guests’ stay. We are at the top of the Rock Creek watershed, which means that our property receives pure, clean, mineral-rich water! We’re calling on this wonderful natural resource to provide our guests with the clean, cool water they need. In order to ensure its quality, we work with WGM Group in Missoula to ensure that all mineral and chemical levels are safe in our water with monthly tests across our property.

In addition to Kleen Kanteens for activity use, guests will receive two refillable Stanley thermoses that they can bring home or leave here. (We also rewarded our Ranch employees who helped us earn our Five-Stars with a thermos this spring). We have filling stations in our Ranch hubs, like the Granite Lodge, Buckle Barn, Blue Canteen, Buckle Barn and Rod & Gun Club.

Guests at The Ranch at Rock Creek receive a Stanley Thermos to use during their stay and take home to eliminate single-use plastics

Accommodations are stocked with sanitized glass bottles that have been filled with pure Ranch water and sealed with a 100% cellulose seal. A sparkling filling station in our kitchen will allows us to replace bottles of pre-packaged sparkling water throughout The Ranch. Guests who want a more traditionally sealed bottle of water to take with them on adventures will also have access to refillable aluminum water bottles provided by Montana Silver Springs, a Philipsburg-based company.

Co-owner of Philipsburg Brewing Company, Nolan Smith, also purchased Granite Water Works, a bottling plant with access to a freshwater springs, that they could use in their beer, but which they could also use to bottle water. This year, they launched Montana Silver Springs, one of only two companies using Alumi-tek bottles to bottle water in the United States.

“Montana has a really hard time recycling plastic. 10% of our plastic is recycled. 90% of our aluminum is recycled. If you put one of these aluminum bottles in our recycling chain, within 40 days it could be a bottle again.” ~ Nolan Smith.

These practices will reduce our plastic consumption, but also ensure that guests’ hiking, horseback riding, skiing or fly fishing adventures are happy and healthy – with plenty of water to make up for lost sweat.

2. Eliminating Single-Use Toiletry Bottles

Like most hotels, we’ve used single use amenity bottles in our accommodations, replacing them with each guest. Now, we will be using glass etched and reusable plastic, specially chosen to remain sanitary for guests.

We’ve always wanted our toiletries to evoke Montana’s intoxicating aromas in accommodations and bathrooms. Our signature scents include mountain juniper and mountain sage, two plants that are part of the experience of The Ranch, whether you are horseback riding through sagebrush flats, or trekking through juniper bushes on our 3-D archery course.

Our exclusive skin care line was developed by Body Bliss, a Sedona, Arizona-based line. Body Bliss uses no artificial fragrances and their products contain no paraben preservatives, no mineral oils, no harsh laureth and lauryl sulfate cleansers, no phthalates and no formaldehyde donors. They rely on the finest natural and sustainable botanical raw materials to ensure a therapeutic benefit. 

3. Eliminating Small Plastic Items.

Plastic straws are among the top 10 debris items in our oceans, and 90% of all trash floating in the ocean’s is comprised of plastic. Around 44% of all seabirds and mammals have ingested plastic.

For over a year, plastic straws have only been available upon request, but before Earth Day, we replaced them with hay straws, which are made from wheat. Hay Straws are natural, compostable, gluten-free, and do not get soggy in hot or cold drinks! They will be available in dining locations if guests re- quest a straw.

Ranch at Rock Creek guests enjoy cowboy coffee cooked over a Montana campfire

We are also moving away from pre-packaged coffee and creamer in our accommodations. Glass bottles will contain fresh cream, milk or other guest requests. Not only will this be better for the environment, but our guests will enjoy a better quality of coffee during their stay since we will rely more on our vendors like Black Coffee Roasting Company out of Missoula, Montana.

Sometimes the devil is in the details. We’ve had to reach outside our states boundaries to source the smaller single-use plastic items in our organization. We have a team devoted to finding other single-use plastics and replacing them with alternatives. Their dedication and hard work over the past few months has turned our New Year’s resolution to a reality.

Protecting our Treasure State

As we celebrate eliminating single-use plastics this Earth Day, we look forward to establishing new partnerships and new goals that keep Montana’s future in mind.

Rivers and streams cover more than 169,829 miles in the state of Montana, of which 388 miles are designated as Wild & Scenic rivers (rivers with outstanding natural, cultural & recreational values). Rock Creek River holds the Blue Ribbon River designation which is only given to waterways with excellent water quality & quantity, great water accessibility, natural reproduction capacity for fish species, good angling pressure, and specific species of fish occurring naturally. The Ranch at Rock Creek has private access to 4 pristine miles of Rock Creek!

Travelers enjoy four miles of private access to Rock Creek during a fly fishing vacation

We believe commitment to our guests and our environment goes hand in hand. Thanks to all our guests and our community who’ve given us the opportunity to do what we do for almost 10 years.

It’s time to reduce our impact on our natural world, in gratitude for the incredible, inspiring impact it has on us.

Read about our past Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Awards:

World’s First Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Ranch

Glamping Under the Five Stars

Lasso the Stars: Inclusivity, Culture & Wild Luxury

Celebrating Five-Years as a Family-Friendly Forbes Five-Star

Category: Sustainability

Adventure in Hospitality

Ranch Life Behind-The-Scenes

A job at The Ranch at Rock Creek is not your average 9-to-5 job. In fact, it’s far from the average hospitality job. Last year, we wrote about the unique careers we offer, but this year we want to highlight the exceptional people in those positions who earn us the rave reviews on TripAdvisor.

Each person who works here – from local residents to college students on summer break to exchange workers from foreign countries  – has an adventurous spirit. Most hiring managers at the most luxurious hotels in the world probably don’t include this in their job prerequisites. (Thanks to Forbes Travel Guide for their inclusion in the Forbes Verified List!)

A Rancher tests his skills on our high ropes course.

An adventurous spirit is the common thread that brings our employees to The Ranch, and it’s also what makes them stay or return. These Ranchers thrive both professionally and personally in a place where they can gain experience meeting Forbes Travel Guide and Relais & Châteaux standards and where they can also step out their front door and absorb the bliss of wild Montana.

1.    Brianna Stroebe – Flint’s Forest Rangers Guide

Though we hire staff from all over the country and world, our native Montanans convey a sense of pride about their home state. Brianna Stroebe is a ray of Big Sky sunshine – an imperative trait for someone who guides for our Flint’s Forest Rangers Kids Club. Brianna enjoys her summers working in the hospitality industry, but this experience is preparing her for a career in secondary education. While she spends the school year studying in Montana, she plans to return next summer to continue working as a guide for our youngest of guests.

Brianna Stroebe hiking in the mountains near Philipsburg.

Much of her family lives in our hometown of Philipsburg, so every season she returns allows her to come  back home and do something she loves. A summer at The Ranch gives her the chance to catch up with friends at the local coffee shop and work toward her ultimate goal of teaching future adventurers.

Brianna says the best part of her job is “being able to cultivate and witness an ‘a-ha’ moment.”

We may not have big city lights, but we do have access to incredible wonders. Many kids have never seen a moose, played in a mountain-fed creek or skipped stones on a pond. She loves to share her home with children from all over the world.

2.     Ryon Mendoza – Wrangler

For some, The Ranch is a place to follow their passion. Ryon Mendoza knew early on that his work would be with horses. He pursued an associate’s degree in farrier science and wilderness horsemanship, which set him on a path to global adventure. First he was a pack horse guide in Alaska for five months. Then, he worked briefly as a wrangler at an Arizona dude ranch, before learning to train horses in Brazil and Costa Rica.

Ryon Mendoza training the mustang Noble1 to do mounted archery. Photo Courtesy of Ranch Archery Guide & Photographer Quinn Wilson.

At The Ranch, Ryon is a horse wrangler , but he’s also developing a new program for the barn, called Mission Mustang. Read more about his mission on our Autumn Harvest highlights blog. What he enjoys most about his job here is the ability to explore and pursue your passions. We’re delighted when staff take the reins on new guest programming and sustainability initiatives. Growth is something that is important to Ryon. It may be one of the reasons why he is so excellent with the mustang.

“One must have the ability to transform with the horse. You ask them to change their lives, you must be willing to do the same.”

Read more…

Category: Sustainability

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 other likeminded organization 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. Read more…

Category: Sustainability

Sweet Life of Bees, Year Two

Join us as we follow our new colleagues—the bees—through their second year homesteading in the Rock Creek Valley. The story is in reverse chronological order so scroll down to start from the beginning, or read more about their first year on The Ranch.  

Chapter Three: Lessons Learned

by Kelsey Bruns, Beekeeper, Master Naturalist

A Growing Year

I am constantly amazed and humbled by the complexity of the hive. One of the first things I learned from my apiarist mentor was that once you believe you know everything about beekeeping you should quit because that means you are a terrible beekeeper.

Instead, you should always be learning from the hive. That comment has stayed with me. This season there have been many surprises and unforeseen circumstances with the hives, a less-than-bumper crop of honey, and yes, there has been a lot of learning.

We sold jars from our 2017 at this year’s Autumn Harvest Celebration. Photo by Kelsey Bruns.

For me, beekeeping is an intricate dance of manipulating the hive. As a beekeeper you are constantly assessing the hive and reacting quickly enough to know what your next move is going to be. Knowing how to read a hive is imperative to a healthy and successful hive. This can be as easy as moving frames from point A to point B and as complex as listening for different intonations of the buzz of a hive. This season there were many instances to practice observation and react to what the hive was telling me.

A Product of our Environment

Spring was very wet and cold this year, and our summer came in strong and left quickly. Two things need to happen for any plant to produce nectar: warmth and moisture. The warmth and moisture allows the plant to bloom. But the golden ticket is to have both these things happen over an extended amount of time. With no moisture in the ground, the flowers may be present but they will not produce nectar.

Spring green soon changes into a tawny landscape during the summer in Philipsburg, Montana. Photo by Drew Baker Photography.

Lacking these two integral factors left the hives with less than enough time to collect a enough nectar to turn into a large crop of honey. As one can imagine, this can be quite frustrating for a beekeeper. I feel for the local farmers when the weather is just not conducive for a bumper crop that can support their livelihood.

A Tough Call

With all this being said, I can blame the weather all I want for the lack of honey, but the reality of this year’s less than exciting honey crop was also due to the health of the hives. For reasons unknown, two hives lost their queens. To make matters worse, these two hives lost their queens right before the nectar flow.

As a beekeeper, all your work is for the nectar flow. You work to ensure you have the strongest hive possible with the most bees that are foragers right as the nectar comes on. With no queen continuously laying eggs to keep hive numbers up, and forager bees coming of age, a hive simply lacks the bee numbers and the appropriate cohort of bees to collect nectar.

As the weather turned cool, the bees started to clump for winter. This act helps the bees to stay warm while exuding less energy. Photo by Kelsey Bruns.

Even after this event, I still had hope for my hives. I repaired these hives with bees from the two strongest hives in the apiary and patted myself on the back for a job well done. But to my dismay one of the new queens in the hive did not mate well and was a drone layer (only produced male bees, not female worker bees), and thus this hive was once again doomed. Being an optimist, I went into the strong hives once again to repair the damaged hive and this queen took.

Finally, all of the hives were back to normal. But because of my optimism (or potentially my stubbornness), the two strongest hives that I used to heal the weak hives had suffered. I ultimately decreased their bee numbers, and in return, these hives produced less honey.

Female bees taking advantage of their last sunny days in the Rock Creek Valley before their winter stay in the Bitterroot Valley. Photo by Kelsey Bruns.

I had to make this decision along the way and I had my reasons. The question was, should I let two hives die and let the strongest hives stay strong and produce an amazing honey crop? Or should I save two hives and sacrifice the amount of honey I would get in the end? I reasoned with the second option, which roots in my philosophy of beekeeping.

The purpose of beekeeping for me is not how many pounds of honey I harvest; it is for the mere appreciation I have for them. Understanding the honeybee hive is a wonder. Something so complex, yet so perfect and simple, that it hasn’t changed in millions of years.

The hive is a beautiful super-organism that our society will always be indebted to and that I will forever be in awe of.

The bees are now set up for success in which they will over-winter well.  They now reside in the Bitterroot Valley for a second winter where the climate is less harsh and the spring flowers come early. Cheers to the bees. I am always ready to learn.


Chapter Two: A Live Hive That Thrives

Spring Turns to Summer

Spring in Rock Creek Valley was quite a dramatic season. This past winter we had an above average snow pack and thus, in return, we have had an extended high water season for Rock Creek. We hope the extra precipitation will mean a healthier eco-system in the long run.

A honeybee on a rosebush. Photo by Kelsey Bruns.

Now that the water is down, the fly fishing is up! As spring progresses into summer, the hives are busy, gathering pollen and trying to recuperate from the long winter.

Beekeeper Kelsey fishing in Southwest Montana. Read more…

Category: Sustainability

Narrative Photography Workshop & Top Tips

More Than a Snapshot

Travel and photography go hand in hand like big skies and majestic mountains. (As any Ansel Adams fan can attest.) Since the advent of smart phones, almost everyone can capture the notable moments and minutia that string together a great trip.

“My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.” ~Steve McCurry

However, despite this constant digital presence, it’s all too easy to lose sight of the principles and art of photography. Learning the principles of great photography can heighten the travel experience.

Photo by Lead Shooting Instructor Myron Weirich.

Narrative Approach

In early 2017, award-winning photographer Jay Dickman came to The Ranch to train our staff on narrative photography techniques. Dickman has an impressive resume, including a Pulitzer Prize and 25 assignments for the National Geographic Society.

We couldn’t wait to see what he would make of February at The Ranch.

Photo by Lead Shooting Instructor Myron Weirich

Over the course of the next three days, the workshop taught our guides how to harness wild beauty and Western culture into pictures that tell a story about our remote corner of the world.

“I wish that all of nature’s magnificence, the emotion of the land, the living energy of place could be photographed.” ~Annie Leibovitz

Read more…