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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.

A map of all the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World
A map of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World.

“National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World has drawn together exceptional properties around the world that share the values that have long defined National Geographic. Lodge members provide guests with outstanding service and experiences while making the choice to tread lightly, to celebrate nature rather than conquer it, to support cultural heritage and engage with local communities.” ~ National Geographic Society

International Year of Sustainable Tourism

The Sustainable Tourism Impact Report’s release coincides with the 2017 United Nations’ International Year of Sustainable Tourism. The Ranch at Rock Creek staff engages in conservation efforts every year in the form of cleanup efforts on our waterways. These initiatives often involve several local businesses and conservation organizations like the Clark Fork Coalition. In 2016, our staff was inspired to offer corporate groups a chance to make conservation part of their retreats.

The Ranch at Rock Creek and the Clark Fork Coalition cleaned up tons of trash from The Clark Fork River in 2015
Ranch employees removed farming equipment from the riverbed during a Clark Fork river cleanup effort. 

The report’s findings also revealed that the lodges in the collection diverted more than 3 million pounds of waste from landfills through reduce, reuse, and recycle practices. One of the conservation practices included in the report is The Ranch’s annual community Clark Fork River cleanup efforts, led by Ranch Activities Director Patrick Little.

A page out of the National Geographic Sustainable Tourism report focusing on protection of natural heritage
A page from the 2016 Sustainable Tourism Impact Report.

After reading the report we are very proud to be included with the efforts of our sister lodges, such as the Zarafa Camp’s efforts to save the black rhino in Botswana and Suku Rainforest’s efforts to simultaneously support local farmers and save pygmy elephants in Malaysian Borneo.

Sustaining Our Cultural Heritage

But conservation of natural heritage is only a piece of sustainability puzzle. The Ranch and its fellow lodges are committed to protecting cultural heritage.  We are also deeply invested in our local communities and culture.  As a historic homestead located in the Northern Rocky Mountains, The Ranch strives to preserve and celebrate the cultural heritage of The Ranch itself. When we offer new outdoor activities or events, our first aim is to ensure that our guests experience authentic Montana culture, both historic and modern. This year we added a weekly winter Nordic Bonfire to pay homage to our Scandinavian roots, and soon weekly barn dances and rodeos will begin. Our Ranch activities, from stagecoach rides to fly fishing to horseback riding are meaningful elements of Montana’s frontier culture.

The Ranch's chuck wagon sits in Camp Roosevelt near the Buckle Barn

National Geographic Storytelling Photography

Recently, National Geographic Travel Photographer Jay Dickman journeyed to The Ranch to share his methods for capturing unique travel experiences through the eye of the lens. Ranch guides participated in a four-day workshop and are currently designing special photography activities for families, groups and individuals. (View Jay Dickman’s slideshow featuring our Ranch guides’ photos below). Beginning this year, we will offer a Ranch photography adventure based on the National Geographic’s legendary storytelling style. Guests will expand their photography skills and capture Montana’s ecosystem and culture. They will return from their adventure with insightful photographs that will both tell a story and forever inspire future travels.

Investing in Community

These sustainability practices do not happen all at once; they are part of a culture of sustainability at the core of the Unique Lodges. Our efforts are embedded in the meals we serve, the purveyors we use and the artisans we carry in our Mercantile. The Ranch invests in 20 local causes (and growing), and has a commitment to providing three farm-to-table meals to our guests each day. Every year we honor our local purveyors during our Autumn Harvest Weekend seasonal celebration.

Executive Chef Josh Drage, a leader in our sustainability efforts, said, “Our collective appreciation of the region’s lifestyle and landscape makes us better stewards of the land and better neighbors. Being part of the rural Montana agricultural community means we support our neighbors, but more importantly, they support us. It is western culture that gives our meals depth beyond taste alone. In our Ranch kitchen, guests engage into the story of the American West along with their palates.”

Executive Chef Josh Drage readies meats, salads and roasted veggies for the 2015 Autumn Harvest Feast
Executive Chef Josh Drage serving up a meal made up of locally harvested produce and meat.

The Ranch at Rock Creek’s Sustainability Efforts

To highlight The Ranch at Rock Creek’s continual sustainability efforts, we’ve included some stories from our blog that support the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World collection’s five tourism tenants.

“Protects and enhances nature and culture”

“Connects with and benefits local people and communities”

“Reveals true sense of place”

“Provides world-class guest services”

“Offers unique and enriching experiences”