“Rock Creek Cattle Co.” The Montana Standard
Bill Foley grew up on a cattle ranch in the Texas panhandle, where his family settled in the 1840s, and enjoyed “hanging out on the ranch property with its wide open spaces, freedom and solitude.” After several years of looking at Montana ranches, Rock Creek Cattle Co., located north of Deer Lodge, came on the market, and Foley acquired it in November 2004.
“I loved the idea of a historic working ranch and this beautiful valley,” he said. “Acquiring the ranch was a matter of going back to my roots. At the time, I only had in mind a long-term legacy for my family. I just wanted to hang out with Tom Davis (ranch manager), go riding and help at branding.” Foley said the development plan “just happened” when he started thinking how great it would be to have a golf course surrounding Rock Creek. He has been intensely involved in every aspect of the project focusing on continuity of the working cattle ranch and a development with an old Montana ranch-style atmosphere, isolated to preserve the Deer Lodge Valley landscape and views of the Flint Creek range.
Acreage used for the development was supplemented when Foley purchased an additional 5,400 acres from RY Timber, known as the Elliston unit, to ensure enough land to maintain the 2,600-head cattle operation.
The development process Foley is majority owner of the ranch and development project with 67 minority partners who are family, friends and business associates.
Before proceeding with the development, Greg Lane, Foley’s partner and friend, visited with community members to get feedback about the concept of the project.
“We came into this project not being developers or with a predetermined development plan,” Lane said. “We love Montana the way it is, and Bill has worked hard to do business in a manner that is consistent with Montana values. The relationships and friendships we have formed here as a result are very meaningful to us.” At first there was uncertainty about the multi-million dollar project in Deer Lodge, but Foley and Lane have worked hard to develop trust.
“We want a win-win economic scenario and community relationship,” said Lane, who is a member of the Powell County Economic Development board of directors. “By meeting or exceeding the planning board’s requirements and expectations we have created a tremendous amount of good will. The friendships and level of trust in the community is unparalleled in Montana for a project like this.” County Planner Ron Hanson agreed saying, “It has been a pleasure to work with Rock Creek. They have been very responsive to any concerns that the planning board or staff have raised.” Conservation, fishery restoration While some people may try to sidestep issues that take more effort to address, Lane has worked to create trust while working closely with multiple state agencies in Helena on conservation, water, fish and wildlife issues.
The ranch is in an area zoned for 40-acre minimum lots, so the owners are required to set aside acreage in conservation easements to comply with regulations. One of the most significant for the Deer Lodge Valley is 3,675 acres set aside to protect the view to the west of Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site. The conservation easement with Five Valleys Land Trust assures the view will remain the same as it has since 1861, when Johnny Grant first settled here.
Another planned conservation easement of 2,000 acres will protect one of Montana’s largest bighorn sheep herds located on the ranch.
Fish habitat along eight miles of Rock Creek, Willow Creek and Dry Gulch has been restored. Lane said that previously almost all the water was diverted for hay production. A comprehensive water management plan provides for ranch operations while keeping constant flows in Rock Creek and an additional See ROCK CREEK, Page D10 10-15 cubic feet per second flows into the Clark Fork River year-round than historically occurred.
“I was intrigued with the vision of a small development in the middle of a working cattle ranch,” said property owner and avid fly fisherman Jim Taylor of Santa Barbara, Calif. “The stream enhancements are an outstanding accomplishment. Because of the flow and quality of the water, cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout are migrating up the stream to spawn where they previously could not.” Phases of development The planned unit development on 2,165 acres will eventually have 254 houses or cabins.
“It is a relatively small number of units for a golf course development of this stature,” Lane said.
The Willow Creek Homestead development, of 931 acres, has 13 home sites. In this area, buyers purchase lots ranging from 40-109 acres, but are only permitted to fence and build on designated, limited acreage “envelopes.” The remainder is used for ranching and grazing operations.
“This allows owners to enjoy the rural ranch lifestyle and to say ‘I own a part of a historic, working Montana cattle ranch,’ ” Lane said.
The past two years have been spent building the core of the project — lodge, fitness center, cabins, townhouse duplexes, golf course, fire hall and related outbuildings.
Dick Anderson of Helena is the general building contractor. During the construction season 120-200 workers with Anderson and other contractors work on site during any given day.
Foley said he selected the site for the lodge because it is the only place one can sit on the deck and see both the creek and the Flint Creek Range. The design is a compilation of places he has visited.
The 8,700-square-foot Cattleman’s Club has a comfortable, homey atmosphere. The ambiance of the great room furnished with leather sofas, easy chairs and buffalo robe rug is enhanced by the massive stone fireplace and light filtering through large windows adjoining the patio. Just through the doorway, the cozy bar and lounge is conducive to conversation, or one might select a book from the library and curl up on a sofa in front of the fireplace.
At the end of the hall, the fly shop offers a wide selection of fishing accessories and sportswear. At the other end of the hall, an attractive dining room seats 46, with additional seating on the patio overlooking Rock Creek. The lodge also houses a full-size commercial kitchen, wine cellar, conference room and administration offices.
Across the driveway, the Creek Club fitness center has a full service gym, luxurious locker rooms with tiled saunas, massage rooms and tastefully furnished sitting rooms where friends can enjoy a game of cards and conversation. Construction of a swimming pool and tennis courts is planned for 2009.
The main buildings and cabins are of frame construction, with old barn wood siding, chinking, rock facades and steel roofs so they blend unobtrusively with the natural landscape of native vegetation and rocky glacial deposits.
Four-bedroom cabins nestled among the evergreens along Rock Creek, with a value of approximately $1.5 million each, have been popular. To date, 12 duplex townhouses, and 10 cabins, from 2,500 to 4,000 square feet, have been completed; seven cabins are under construction.
It is not anticipated that property owners will live at the ranch year-round, but will use these residences for a vacation getaway.
“A lot of thought went into the design of the project so people will feel as if they are living on a ranch rather than a resort,” Lane said, as he drove past two 5,500-square-foot houses being built in Phase 2 East.
“We want people from out-of-state to experience the landscape and get to know the people in the community,” he added. “There is no advertising promotion of the project. We are relying on word-of-mouth to attract down-to-earth, good people who share our respect for the land and the people of Montana.” “Bill has done a fabulous job to create a very special place here,” said cabin owner Rick Blake of Whitefish. “I grew up on a farm and the ranch is a great family place. We love the remoteness, the cattle, buffalo and wildlife and go back every opportunity we get. Last weekend we celebrated our son’s ninth birthday at Rock Creek because he wanted to go there rather than have a bowling party or other activity.” Golf course among best in nation Designed by world-famous golf course architect Tom Doak, the challenging par 71 course is believed to be among the top 50 in the nation. It received rave reviews from guests who played in September.
Doak is a minimalist architect who designed the golf course to flow with the natural landscape along both sides of Rock Creek, and with a minimum amount of dirt excavation to create the greens. No buildings are near nor can be seen from the course, and the isolation when playing makes one feel they are in the wilderness.
“It is amazing to me to see how they totally fit it into the terrain,” said planning board member John Hollenback during a tour, The Department of Natural Resources and Conservation helped with permitting and set up of a reservoir constructed to the west and upslope of the golf course to provide an efficient 100-percent gravity fed irrigation system for watering the greens.
In order for local residents to enjoy the golf course, a segment of lower-priced memberships for Montanans has been created. According to Lane these have been popular and most of the memberships have been sold.
Plans for the future Two more phases, with a mix of home lots and cabins, are planned for 2009 and 2010. Beyond that, Lane said no other expansion is planned in order to keep the project intimate.
Working with Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and Fish, Wildlife and Parks, additional ponds and wetlands will be created in Willow Creek.
An equestrian center is planned for Willow Creek with stables for boarding of horses, equestrian events and lessons.
“We are looking into working with individuals in Deer Lodge to develop a first class facility for sporting clays, archery and a shooting range that could be used by residents of the ranch and the local community,” Lane said.
“The project has been expensive,” Lane admitted. “We did it right and the final product came out as we hoped.” “For a commercial establishment, I’m thrilled with it,” Foley agreed.
Pat Hansen may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com SIDEBAR Developers contribute to Deer Lodge economy Contributions made by Bill Foley and Greg Lane, developers of the Rock Creek Ranch Co., to the community of Deer Lodge since 2004 have totaled more than $400,000 including: — $100,000 Cottonwood Creek Restoration — $86,000 Powell County for bridge across Rock Creek — $75,000 Powell County Medical Center to refurbish patient rooms $50,000 School District No. 1 for a bio-mass heating project — $20,000 City of Deer Lodge to help complete the new fire station — $15,000 Race Track Community Center — $15,000-20,000 Senior Citizen’s Center and Meals on Wheels for a new stove and working capital Thousands of dollars in smaller donations to the community They also donated $200,000 to the University of Montana law school for building refurbishment and expansion.
Greg Lane is a member of the Powell County Economic Development Board of Directors.
— By Pat Hansen of The Montana Standard