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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 we joined the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World (as the only US charter member) in 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 Operations Justin Robbins

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