| CSW 2008|
Many of you can relate to my story as many of you have spent many years giving to your communities. After many years of giving to others, I decided it was time to do it for my own family. I looked around and said to myself, “What is it that I love? And I knew it was the rural communities – the people, the stories. . . Then I thought, how best to earn a living? I took an inventory of what was available.
I knew that many people had come from rural communities or had grandparents who had, so I began to create what it would be like to go home to the grandparents' farm. We hung a rope from the tree to swing off into the pond. We built forts for the kids. . . we put up Tipi’s from our reservation. We built small cabins that our guests could stay in. They all had front porches with rocking chairs so the guests could sit and rock and check out the baby colts or the baby St. Bernard puppies.
After studying through the Rural Development Leadership Network, I realized that the most important thing was to do what is called “asset mapping," which means taking the assets you have available and using them to help with economic development. We used this concept along with others when we developed our property.
We knew there was a demand for things, from real people...
When I was a child, I lived on the Flathead Indian Reservation. My mom was Indian and my Dad was white. There was a treaty broken and white people were allowed to come to the reservation and buy 160 acres for $5. . . my granddad did that. Entrepreneurship comes natural to me.
I always dreamed of having a guest ranch. . . I thought it was going to be on the home place on the reservation. . . it didn’t turn out quite like that. . .It was a small place near Whitefish. We started with a suite on the lower level of the house. People loved it!
We started turning people away so built three small cabins with all the money we could muster up. . . Before the season began, we began filling them up. What I do know is that people want what we have. . we have proven that over the past 6 years. . . They want fresh air, they want home cooking, they want peacefulness and beauty, and real people. We live in the country . . . near a river . . .Stillwater River . . . it is not the most beautiful river, it does not have babbling rocks, it has a clay bottom. Our ranch is not large, but it is next to 3000 acres of public land that we can use for a fraction of the cost of buying land.
We tell our story on the Internet and people come from all over the world to our ranch. Just this morning I got a reservation from a family in Hong Kong . . .Over the holidays we had guests from Norway, Germany, England and Canada as well as all over the United States. We tell our story, and it attracts nice people. And then they come back . . .The kids do things that kids should do. They play on the piles of hay, they build forts, they swing on the rope into the river, they pack water up the bank and pour water down the otter slide and then go sailing off the bank into the river. Fun just comes natural, from the simple things. They ride, rope, saddle, wash horses. They lose weight, they get sunshine and they get going towards health.. . . and they cry when they leave. Kids feel safe here. . . Just this morning I had a 7 year old come over to the ranch house for breakfast by himself. His parents say he never does that . . . He smiles as I offer him a cup of coffee . . . Kids grow up before your eyes when they can control a horse by themselves that weights over 1000 pounds.
Again, after a couple of years we found we were still turning people away, so we built more cabins and then our children moved home to help. Sarah runs the Cabins in the Woods. The X-Generation attracts a new crowd of rock climbers, mountain bikers and kayakers. My daughter Whitney has found that many people want to look better when they go back home so she has opened a salon close to the ranch to cater to our guests. Sarah is looking into wellness and fitness camps – there is a organic farm across the road from our resort that our guests love. In the summer we have big BBQ’s featuring local beef and vegetables. Our Latino friends from Arizona have bought a house next to our property that we are using for retreats. It just keeps growing. You have to have imagination, determination and a vision, you allow people to experience your vision and they add something bigger to the picture.
Our plans for the future? We want to build more cabins, a lodge for bigger retreats and a good life for our children and us. As another spin-off business, I have started selling real estate to our guests. My friend Shelby and I have started a business called Westward Bound – a Montana Real Estate Company. Because of the women I met at the UN Conference a couple of years ago from England, we plan also to start a newspaper called “Old – Who Cares.” We plan to sell townhouses that look over the lake and have fun raising hell with our newspaper, as we grow older as the ladies did from England.
We now have lots of great neighbors! My brother comes up from the reservation in the summer to help us. He brings colts that he rides and then sells them at the end of the summer, often times to our guests that buy real estate and move here – he brings his organic, grass fed beef to feed our guests. It helps him get more money for the cattle . . . If our guests that buy houses do not move here full time, we rent out their houses for them. The potential keeps going on and on as more people buy into our vision and move us to the next level.
Last winter, we had an old cowboy show up with a young son . . . they moved in to help. We bought a sleigh, a wagon and a team of Belgians . . . we now do winter sleigh rides with dinner . . . another spin-off business . . . Our friends, from California, built a log home down the meadow from us . . . our team will stop there for hot chocolate and cookies – so they feel like part of our group.
We have hired many of our tribal members to build houses, decks. Many of them have learned their skills through a program that RDLN helped put together on rural economic development. The circle keeps growing. We keep growing as we encourage people to move to a new level. It’s a circle of giving.