Friday, July 21, 2006

Ranch Response to the Wall Street Journal

Ranch Response to the Wall Street Journal
Sent to Conor Dougherty,
Emailed: July 21, 2006

A Big Montana Hello to Conor,

I enjoyed reading your 7-7-06 article in the Wall Street Journal titled The Disappearing Dude Ranch. It was well thought out and carefully researched.

I wanted to let you know that dude ranches are not the only ranches facing the “setting sun;” cattle ranches in Montana and elsewhere are in the same situation. The ranch land is far more valuable than the cattle business it supports. We have bumped up against (and in some cases, neighbor) the Brokaws of the world. Newcomers are not known for being good stewards of the land. Jeff Phillips, of Sunset magazine raised Tom Brokaw’s ire when he reported the local sentiment toward out of state land owners. [Sunset February 2005: Home on the Range.]

We don’t look at the land as something we’ve inherited from our fathers. It’s like a trust—we’re really borrowing it from our children. 4th and 5th generation ranch families hang on in spite of the fact the economics of ranching here in Montana really don’t work anymore. Whether too ornery to admit it or too stubborn to quit, we’ve had to look at ways to pull together. As near as we can tell, we are the only ones doing what we’re doing…the way we’re doing it: as an agri-tourism cooperative. Or at least we’re the only group of cattle ranchers in the U.S. hosting guests cooperatively. It is common place in Europe where we borrowed the idea from their Farm Holidays program.

We call ourselves Montana Bunkhouses Working Ranch Vacations and we would like to think that we will be the option for the next “century of summers” giving people a genuine appreciation of the value of the small Western rancher. We are family owned and family operated generational cattle ranches in Montana (15 to date) working together to host guests for what we call an “authentic” working ranch vacation. As you pointed out in your article, in the late 19th century, working ranches took in guests for extra cash…then evolved to where they existed solely to entertain dudes. A criterion for our group is that the primary focus remains production agriculture while opening our homes to folks who want to learn about our way of life is secondary.

Let me know if you have any questions or if you’d like to have a cup of coffee with me or any of the ranch families on our web site!

We welcome you to experience the traditions of our ranching way of life in Montana, where myth has long been in partnership with reality.

Happy Trails,
Karen Searle

Karen at Montana Bunkhouses
Working Ranch Vacations LLC
P.O. Box 693
Livingston, Montana 59047

Office Phone 406-222-6101

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